Jews in Leipzig: Nationality and Community in the 20 Century

The Dissertation Committee for Robert Allen Willingham II certifies that this is the
approved version of the following dissertation:
Jews in Leipzig:
Nationality and Community in the 20th Century
David Crew, Supervisor
Judith Coffin
Lothar Mertens
Charters Wynn
Robert Abzug
Jews in Leipzig:
Nationality and Community in the 20th Century
Robert Allen Willingham II, B.A.; M.A.
Presented to the Faculty of the Graduate School
the University of Texas at Austin
in Partial Fulfillment
of the Requirements
for the Degree of
Doctor of Philosophy
May, 2005
To Nancy
This dissertation would not have been possible without the support of the German
Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), which provided a year-long dissertation grant.
Support was also provided through the History Department at the University of Texas
through its Sheffield grant for European studies.
The author is also grateful for the assistance of archivists at the Leipzig City
Archive, the Archive of the Israelitische Religionsgemieinde zu Leipzig, the Archive for
Parties and Mass Organizations in the GDR at the Federal archive in Berlin, the
“Centrum Judaica” Archive at the Stiftung Neue Synagoge, also in Berlin, and especially
at the Saxon State Archive in Leipzig.
Indispensable editorial advice came from the members of the dissertation
committee, and especially from Professor David Crew, whose advice and friendship have
been central to the work from beginning to end. Any errors are solely those of the author.
Jews in Leipzig:
Nationality and Community in the 20th Century
Publication No. _________
Robert Allen Willingham II, PhD.
The University of Texas at Austin, 2005
Supervisor: David Crew
The thesis is a study of the Jewish community of Leipzig, Germany over the
course of the 20th century. It begins with an overview of the Jews of the city until the rise
to power of Adolf Hitler, emphasizing divisions with the Jewish community over the
ideology of Zionism and between German-born and foreign-born Jews. It goes on to
describe the lives of Jews as the Nazis come to state authority, the riots of November,
1938, and the gradual exclusion of Jews from professional and pubic life in the city.
Jewish responses in education, politics and culture are examined, as are the decisions of
many local people to emigrate.
After the 1938 riots, exclusion began to shift to extermination, and the Jewish
community found itself subject to deportation to camps in Eastern Europe. Most of those
deported were murdered. Those who lived were able to do so because of good fortune,
canny survival skills, or marriage to non-Jews. Jewish life, which had been an important
part of the city, was systematically destroyed.
After 1945, those few who survived in the city were joined by another handful of
Jewish Leipzigers who survived the camps, and by some non-Leipzig Jews, to reform the
Jewish community. A tiny percentage of the old Jewish world of Leipzig was left to
rebuild. They did so, reestablishing institutions, reclaiming property, and beginning
negotiations with the new authorities, the Soviet occupation and then the German
Democratic Republic. The Jews of Leipzig continued some of their old concerns in this
new world, negotiating with the government and among themselves the nature of their
identities as Jews and as Germans.
These negotiations were brought to a halt by a series of anti-Semitic purges in
1952 and 1953. The leadership of the Jewish community fled, as did many of their
fellow-Jews. The behavior of the East German state at this point showed some surprising
commonality with their Nazi predecessors.
After the purges were over, those who
remained began another process of rebuilding, this time in constant tension with a
government that wanted to use them for propaganda purposes during the Cold War. With
the fall of the communist regime in 1989-90, the Jewish community of Leipzig was able
to chart its destiny again. The old issues of identity and community—among themselves
and between Jews and their German neighbors—continue in a very different context.
Table of Contents:
Introduction: Pg. 1
Chapter 1: “No Uniform Community”: Jewish Life in Leipzig through the Weimar
Republic: Pg. 16
Chapter 2: “What would the Führer, Adolf Hitler, say?”: Jewish life under the Nazis,
1933-38: Pg. 37
Chapter 3: “Regarded by the German Government as Undesirable”:
exclusion, deportation and murder, 1938-1945: Pg. 97
Chapter 4: A Phoenix in Saxony: the Revival of Jewish life in Leipzig after the
Second World War: Pg. 133
Chapter 5: The New Terror: the purge of 1952-53: Pg. 159
Chapter 6: Construction Will Commence: after the purge, normalcy, and the
Wende: Pg. 200
Conclusion: Pg. 235
Bibliography: Pg. 241
Vita: Pg. 248
Richard Frank was a manufacturer of textiles. He was born in the city of Halle in
1870, the year before the foundation of the German Empire. He moved to the city of
Leipzig at the age of five, and enjoyed a fairly typical upper-class existence. He went to
the classical Gymnasium, served in the army, even reaching lower officer rank. He
attended the University of Leipzig, opened his own factory, had a family. He seemed not
especially handicapped by the fact of being a Jew. After the collapse of the German
Empire, Frank’s professional career blossomed even more. The Weimar Republic was
explicitly devoted to the equality of its citizens, and Frank’s private success now took on
a public character as a result. From 1920 to 1933, he served as a trade judge at the
regional court.
But in 1933, of course, the German state changed its form and its intent toward its
Jewish citizens. The effect on Frank’s life was sudden and stark. He was ejected from
his official position, and saw his entire life—both professional and personal—constricted.
By 1937, his enterprises had begun to disappear, the result of Nazi “trusteeship” and then
in 1939 under straight-forward “Aryanization.” He was eventually required to wear a
yellow star on his clothing, to move from his home with his wife into a so-called
“Judenhaus”, an over-crowded collective house, a sort of miniature ghetto. He was only
spared from deportation and death by being in a mixed marriage with a Lutheran woman,
and just barely at that.
After the war ended, Frank’s life changed again. Under the Soviet occupation and
then the German Democratic Republic, he was the first Chair of the re-founded Jewish
religious community, the Gemeinde. He occupied an official role with the Trade and
Industry Chamber, not very unlike his old position as a trade judge. He was recognized
by the new regime as an official victim of the Nazis, no insignificant distinction, coming
as it did with a pension. He served as the Chair of the Gemeinde until Spring of 1953,
when, after a purge of the Gemeinde by Communist authorities, he resigned. He was
allowed to stay as Honorary Chair for a year, and then was expelled from the Gemeinde.
He fled the country in 1955, and the government revoked his standing as a victim of the
Nazis a year later.
Frank’s story begins to display to us the relationship between the radically
different states in Germany in the 20th century and their implications for Jews. Frank
went from being a respected businessman and public official, to a despised and
endangered enemy of the state, to a civic leader with the respect and assistance of the
state, to its enemy, obliged ultimately to leave his home in his eighth decade of life. It is
obvious that it was bad for Jews to live under the Nazis. What is less obvious is the way
German and Jewish life change along with the different visions of the German state. This
study will suggest some starting points for an understanding of the German-Jewish
experience that reflects this longer view, and that offers us in the process a clearer
appreciation of the patterns and discontinuities within and between the different historical
versions of the German state in the twentieth century. Before doing so, it is appropriate
to consider a few aspects of the existing literature, and where this work fits.
1. A “special path” for Germany?
The enduring debate about the nature of the German state is centered on the
concept of a Sonderweg, a special path that Germany has taken, departing from an
ostensibly “normal” European development. As developed by Hans-Ulrich Wehler, in
The German Empire, 1871-1918, this thesis emphasizes the distinctive nature of German
unification in 1871, its alleged close ties to the conservative land-holding class
personified by Prince Otto von Bismarck. According to this interpretation, liberal middle
classes failed to plant the seeds of representative government and progress and the course
of the Hohenzollern Empire was negatively affected as a result, leading in part to German
involvement in the First World War. Wehler’s image of the Empire is an inherently unmodern model, leaving the Germans more vulnerable to fascism when the time came.
When a Republic finally arrived, it represented a revolutionary change and suffered as a
This outlook has been challenged over time, notably by Geoff Eley and David
Blackbourn. Eley and Blackbourn take exception to the notion of a “normal” European
development, from which Germany presumably strayed. They reject the image of the
German bourgeoisie as marginalized and ineffective, and argue that German middle
classes got most of what they wanted with German unification in 1871, and that indeed,
the Bismarckian revolution should be thought of as a “progressive” one, taking more into
account than just a narrow focus on representative government. From this perspective,
there is nothing really “un-modern” about Germany’s empire, and assumptions that a
Republic represented a radical shift from the Empire, leaving the door open to a more
“German” and less “modern” fascism, are problematized.
Detlev Peukert also challenged Wehler’s notions of modernity and discontinuity.
Looking at the Weimar Republic, Peukert clearly assumed that Republic was a
modernizing regime, wracked by internal contradictions, an image not terribly different
from Peter Gay’s classic Weimar Culture. Like Eley and Blackbourn, Peukert insisted on
a broader agenda for modernization than only democratic politics, and traced a process of
modernization from the Empire through the Republic. There is more continuity in this
model than in Wehler’s, to be sure.
But Peukert went further with his study Inside Nazi Germany. Here, he
dismantled the assumption that the Third Reich was a decisive break with a modernizing
trend. Despite National Socialism’s declared war on the modern world, Peukert shows
convincingly that the Nazi regime was a vigorously modernizing state, incorporating
ideas about industrial and social organization in an effort to produce its own revolution,
no less ambitious in its goals for being based on racialism. Wehler, Blackbourn and Eley
and Peukert combine to produce a complicated picture of a German state coming to terms
with the challenges of political, social and economic change.
The image that emerges is one that shows more points of continuity than division
in the themes of German political culture. This study shares that perspective. The
concerns that German Jews shared in the Republic, the Third Reich and the German
Democratic Republic were surprisingly similar, as will be made clear below. Questions
over membership in a German community, divisions between rich and poor Jews,
German- and foreign-born, Zionists and anti- Zionists—these were present over the whole
of the period under consideration. From that viewpoint, it seems clear that many of the
basic issues of German Jewish life were consistent.
But we can only go so far in this direction, of course. For all that there were
important commonalities in the Jewish experience in Leipzig in the 20th century, there is
no denying how radically different it was to be Jews under the Nazi state than under the
Republic. And, though there are points of comparison to be made between the Third
Reich and the Communist state that followed it, the latter clearly represented a very
different time to be a German Jew than either the Republic or Nazi regime.
I argue that in each regime, the discussion among German Jews and between
German Jews and the state was driven by the same set of questions. Those questions
were posed in very different ways over time and were given different answers as
circumstances demanded. But the questions—in short, about identity—were largely the
same throughout. And, though the German states behaved in very different ways over
time, we can even point to a shared sort of strategy. In every case, the leaders of the
German state used Jews to make an argument for their own legitimacy and selfdefinition. Whether a Republic devoted to civic equality, or a racial dictatorship defining
itself in opposition to Jews, or a communist regime building its legitimacy as a
representative of the victims and opponents of Nazism—and on the goodwill of the
Soviet Union—every German state had a discursive relationship with Jews that was
important to it. In turn, that discursive relationship did much to define the exercise of
concrete power in the lives of Jews.
A study that covers each of these regimes can be better placed to draw out such
continuities—when appropriate—than one that focuses on one, or even two periods of
modern German political history. Clearly, there is an ideological component to some of
this debate, centered on the identification of the middle classes with liberalism and
representative government. Some of this debate is outdated, as was made clear by
Peukert’s innovative work, which moves beyond issues of class into those of culture and
identity. Detlev Peukert’s work is an influence on this study in that shift of emphasis, but
where Peukert was drawn to examine a more general picture of German society, this
study focuses on Jews and their governments. And, where all of the above efforts take a
national view, this one is focused on a particular city.
2. The significance of Leipzig
Local studies of German society during the 20th century constitute a rich
literature. They range a great deal, from the political history of William Sheridan Allen’s
Nazi Seizure of Power: The Experience of a Single German Town 1922-1945, to the
examination of the effects of industrialization in David Crew’s Town in the Ruhr: A
Social History of Bochum, 1860-1914, to the recent dramatic recounting of the Blood
Libel in the town of Konitz by Helmut Walser Smith’s Butcher’s Tale. Through such
studies, we can go beneath the general—though valuable—assertions of broader surveys.
In so doing, we can affirm what is found at the national level, or problematize it, as
Walser’s work has required us to re-imagine the durability of “pre-modern” versions of
Of course, this is a work of Jewish history as well as of German history, and local
studies of Jewish life have enabled us to examine the major issues of Jewish and German
history in a different light. In Berlin alone, there is a wealth of work ranging from an
examination of the intimacies of discrimination in Aus Nachbarn wurden Juden :
Ausgrenzung und Selbstbehauptung 1933-1942, by Hazel Rosenstrauch, to the history of
Jewish salons in Jewish High Society in Old Regime Berlin by Deborah Hertz, to the
memories of a expatriate Jewish Berliner in Peter Gay’s My German Question: Growing
up in Nazi Berlin. There is a similar, though less developed literature for other German
cities, notably Frankfurt and Hamburg.1
In Hamburg alone, works range from Ina Lorenz’ monograph Identität und Assimilation: Hamburgs
Juden in der Weimarer Republik, Hamburg, 1989, to her source collection Die Juden in Hamburg zur Zeit
But there is much less of a developed literature for the city of Leipzig, and it
deserves one. Leipzig was different from the other big cities, not least because its Jewish
population was so overwhelmingly foreign-born by the 1930s. This is very different
from the other big cities, with the exception of Berlin, where, like Leipzig, many local
Jews had been born in Poland and other eastern locales. Leipzig is also different from the
other major centers of Jewish life in Germany in that its 20th century saw Empire,
Republic, Nazi rule, and the German Democratic Republic.2 Again, the only parallel is
with Berlin, but that city is so much larger as to present other difficulties. With Leipzig,
the Jewish community, though large, is small enough to make larger claims about the
entire group. In Berlin, such claims are properly limited to neighborhoods or particular
The most important work in local Jewish history for Leipzig is largely contained
in a single volume: 1994’s Judaica Lipsiensia : zur Geschichte der Juden in Leipzig,
edited by Manfred Unger.3 This collection offers essays by scholars on topics ranging
from the earliest presence of Jews in the city through the period of the German
Democratic Republic. It is an excellent resource, but no substitute for a monographlength study of Jewish life in the 20th century. Other work includes Steffen Held’s study
of the local Jewish Community, the Gemeinde, after 1945.4 Held’s work is invaluable to
an understanding of Jewish life in Leipzig, but editorial control is given to the Board of
der Weimarer Republik : eine Dokumentation, Hamburg, 1987, to the personal narrative provided by
Ingeborg Hecht in Invisible Walls: a German Family under the Nuremberg Laws, San Diego, 1985.
The literature on East German Jewish communities is much less developed than that in the west. There
are commemorative volumes available, like Juden in Chemnitz: Ein Buch zur Geschichte der Gemeinde
und ihrer Mitglieder mit einer Dokumentation des jüdischen Friedhofs, Dresden, 2002, and Adolph
Diamont’s Chronik der Juden in Dresden. Von den ersten Juden bis zur Blüte der Gemeinde und deren
Ausrottung, Darmstadt, 1973, but a critical literature is slow in coming in the former GDR.
M. Unger [Hrsg.], Judaica Lipsiensia. Zur Geschichte der Juden in Leipzig, Leipzig, 1994.
Steffen Held, Zwischen Tradition und Vermächtnis. Die Israelitische Religionsgemeinde zu Leipzig nach
1945, Hamburg, 1995.
Directors of the Gemeinde, and the book is, frankly, not very critical of that body at some
crucial moments.
3. Themes in Jewish and German history
This is a very broad topic, certainly. Its parameters are beyond an introduction
like this. But of all the various arenas for debate around Jewish history, a few suggest
themselves as being especially relevant to this discussion. One is the relationship
between German-born and foreign-born Jews. Trude Maurer’s book on Eastern Jews5
lays out the basic issues of tension between more assimilated and usually Reformoriented Jews on the one hand, and more proletarian, eastern-born Jews, usually
Orthodox or Zionist or both, and not all reconciled to the assimilationist vision of their
German-born cousins. My dissertation consciously seeks to examine those issues in
further detail.
The larger issue is that of the connection between German and Jews. Were
German Jews merely outsiders? Was their story foreordained to end in disaster? Was
Jew-hating a natural part of the German condition? One extreme in this debate, it seems
to me, is represented by Daniel Jonah Goldhagen6. Though his book is not a book about
German Jews, it is about their relationship with the larger community. Goldhagen
essentially reads history backward from genocide, concluding that Germans were taken
by a particular and vicious brand of anti-Semitism that would never allow Germans and
Jews to fully integrate. A much more nuanced approach that still emphasizes the popular
Trude Maurer, Ostjuden in Deutschland 1918-1933, Hamburg, 1986.
Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, Hitler's Willing Executioners. Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust. New
York, 1996.
nature German anti-Semitism (though not as an exclusive cause for persecution of Jews)
can be found in the work of Robert Gellately.7
The opposing ground is held by Christopher Browning8 and Omer Bartov9, who
both argue for the primacy of context in the decision of actors in the genocide to
perpetrate their crimes. From their perspective, there seems to be no particular
impediment to German-Jewish integration among ordinary Germans, until the state steps
in to prevent it. So, then, were German Jews hopelessly devoted to a liberal model of
nationalism, that as many have noted (George Mosse, Walter Laqueur) was changing to a
more virulent and exclusionary model, or were they well-integrated into German life?
No historian of the holocaust can ignore the realities of the expulsion of the Jews
from German life, but that does not mean that the expulsion was pre-ordained. As will
become clear over the course of this study, its sympathies are with Browning and Bartov,
and historians like Amos Elon10, whose work evokes the lost world of German Jewry
without the assumption that the dream of assimilation was foolish or wicked. From that
perspective, the actions of integrationist Jews like those studied here gain a new power.
The power to build and define their community was certainly undone from 1933-1945.
That does not mean that Jewish agency in doing so was always illusionary. As Elon and
others show, the crucial determinant was not a long history of German Jew-hatred, but
the form and intent of the German state.
Robert Gellately, Backing Hitler: Consent and Coercion in Nazi Germany. Oxford, 2001.
Christopher Browning, Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland,
New York, 1992.
Omer Bartov, Mirrors of Destruction: War, Genocide, and Modern Identity. New York and Oxford, 2000.
While Browning sets his explanatory model squarely in the contingencies of war and masculine group
dynamics, Bartov goes somewhat further afield, using literature and film to situate twentieth century
genocide in the context of utopian politics throughout Europe. Though the reliance on literary sources is
not unproblematic, this study is probably most sympathetic to Bartov’s insistence on the importance of
utopian ideals and their presence outside of Germany.
Amos Elon, The Pity of It All: A History of Jews in Germany, 1743-1933, New York, 2002.
4. The German Democratic Republic
The historical literature about the German Democratic Republic is of course
somewhat less developed than that around German history more generally, or around the
Holocaust. Part of this is due to the fact that access to the archives in the former East
only opened after the end of the SED regime. As those archives have opened, a wealth of
new scholarship has appeared, and the central question to arise has been that of the nature
of the East German dictatorship. Was it merely a continuation of existing tendencies
toward authoritarianism in Germany (a kind of echo of the “Sonderweg” thesis)? Did it
have any legitimacy beyond the presence of the Red Army? Was it a totalitarian regime?
The main scholars on the GDR before the fall of the Wall were, of necessity,
working in a Cold War atmosphere, and it is not surprising that the leading figure, David
Childs, strongly emphasized the role of the Russians in imposing the SED system in East
Germany. His GDR: Moscow’s German Ally11 is a portrait of a dictatorship in no real
contact with its people. His more recent work, like The Fall of the GDR12, also follows
this theme of a regime with few ties to its people, a foreign state whose fall was hardly a
But more recent work has generally had to take into account the continuing
affection of many in the East for aspects of life under the former regime. This tendency,
called Ostalgie, can be seen in movies like Sonnenallee and Goodbye Lenin!, Easternthemed bars, and internet sites selling GDR-flavored kitsch. It can be seen rather more
seriously in the continued viability of the successor party of the SED, the Party of
Democratic Socialism, in electoral politics. Even taking into allowance the
David Childs, The GDR: Moscow’s German Ally, New York, 1983.
David Childs, The Fall of the GDR: Germany’s Road to Unity. Harlow, 2001.
understandable fondness for memories of full employment and lifetime social security in
a place that is now notably lacking in either, this warmth begs explanation, and certainly
problematizes the image of the GDR as a foreign-imposed, totalitarian regime.
In response, scholars like Mary Fulbrook have begun to consider the ties between
the GDR and its citizens, and have found a regime that is not very like the Nazi
dictatorship in some important ways.13 Fulbrook finds more room for opposition to the
regime—and negotiation with it—than might have been expected, certainly more than is
reflected in the work of David Childs. The regime had a long life, after all, especially
compared to the Third Reich, and went through more permutations. For instance, she
identifies the role of Erich Honecker in reducing tensions between people and state and
moving toward some sort of integration between the two. These dynamics changed over
time, then, not what one would expect from a totalitarian regime with no legitimacy other
than a foreign garrison, or from a society naturally given to dictatorship. The question of
how the SED integrated itself with the people of East Germany is not entirely clear here,
This move toward a more complicated understanding of life under the SED
regime has been reflected in the literature on East German Jews, too. Mario Keßler’s
work, emphasizes a top-down model of authority in which Jews operated with no more
autonomy than they would in any other “authoritarian” regime.14 More recent research
by scholars like Lothar Mertens15 and Jay Geller16 sees more agency for Jews, varying
greatly over time and the stage and needs of the SED regime. This work is influenced by
Mary Fulbrook. Divided Nation: A History of Germany 1918-1990, New York, 1992.
See especially Mario Keßler, Die SED und die Juden – zwischen Repression und Toleranz. Politische
Entwicklungen bis 1967, Berlin, 1995, (Zeithistorische Studien, Bd. 6).
Lothar Mertens, Davidstern unter Hammer und Zirkel. Die Jüdischen Gemeinden in der SBZ/DDR und
ihre Behandlung durch Partei und Staat 1945-1990, Hildesheim/Zürich/New York, 1997.
Jay Geller, Jews in Post-Holocaust Germany, 1945–1953, Cambridge, 2005.
these studies that see more autonomy and political life among East German Jews, but
focuses more than they do on the goals of the state and the particular significance of
forms of the state over time.
Jeffrey Herf’s book Divided Memory17 is in some ways the most important
predecessor to and influence on my study. Like Geller, for whom Herf’s work is also
clearly influential, Herf examines post-war Germany from both East and West, and
comes to the conclusion—among others—that in both East and West the state saw Jews
as a sort of organizing and rhetorical tool. In both postwar German republics, a
relationship with German Jews, good or bad, was a way to lay claim to political
legitimacy, a way to integrate themselves with their constituencies.
4. The German State and German Jews
My study accepts this assertion as a starting point, and not only in discussing the
Federal and Democratic Republics. In the case of the Weimar Republic, openness to
Jews was an important part of how the republic defined itself. Certainly, for the Nazis,
opposition to Jews was a crucial part of who they were, and was an important tool for
binding itself to its core following. The same is true, in a different way, for the SED.
Jews were used by East German Communists as rhetorical devices, as symbols. Before
the early 1950s they were useful props for attacking the west and for associating the SED
with opposition to the Nazis, and so Jews were brought out for commemorations that
bolstered the claims of the regime to authority. But as time went on, the party had to tend
to other constituencies, and this meant Moscow. A wave of anti-Semitic activity led by
Stalin had echoes in the GDR, leaving its tiny Jewish communities in shambles. Later,
Jeffery Herf, Divided Memory: the Nazi Past in the Two Germanies. Cambridge,
MA, 1999.
by the mid-1960s, Jews were again useful to the regime as “positive” support, offering
affirmation of the regime’s claims to moral superiority over the west. In every form of
the German state in the 20th century, political leaders engaged in rhetorical strategies and
concrete actions regarding Jews that were central for their self-representation and selfdefinition.
But, as was indicated earlier, this study argues for Jewish agency under the GDR,
and this brings us to the central argument of this dissertation. One way to study Jewish
life in the 20th century is to consider the varying freedom of Jews to define themselves
and their relationship to the larger German nation, and this level of freedom changes in
ways that reflect the comings and goings of various versions of the German state. During
the Weimar period, Jewish life in Leipzig was a virtually non-stop debate, a free market
of ideas and contention among Jews. The big questions were all on the table: Am I
Jewish or German? Is there a contradiction between the two? Is Zionism the answer?
How important is it that I was born in Germany or not? Whether I am Orthodox or
Reform? Jewish life during the Republic was defined by contention among and between
Jews, and a more or less free agency among them to define their place in German life.
The debates of the Weimar period came to an abrupt end beginning in 1933. The
Nazi regime quickly and forcefully took all choice out of the hands of Jews. Whether
they were Zionist or assimilationist, Reform or Orthodox, religious or secular soon
became quite irrelevant. The Nazi had their own ideas about the Jews, their own
definitions, and imposed them in the most brutal possible way. Questions for Jews no
longer concerned now-fanciful ideals like nationality and identity, but mere survival, and
many in Leipzig did not survive.
Those who did and returned saw a greater freedom of movement after 1945, under
the Soviet Administration (SMAD) and the young (from October, 1949) German
Democratic Republic. For the first years of the GDR, Jews had a more or less
cooperative relationship with the state. Many Jewish leaders were true-believing
communists, and shared the announced goal of a proletarian state that would move
beyond religious difference. Even so, these same leaders became involved in reviving
the pre-war Jewish organizations, and worked to move toward a synthesis of Jewish and
German and Communist identity.
But the East German state changed in important ways over time, and this is what
made it different from the Weimar Republic and the Third Reich. At times, the GDR
regime was more or less repressive, more or less closely tied to the whims of Moscow,
more or less likely to allow Jews to find their own way. At all times, Jews were
rhetorically useful to East Berlin, but sometimes had more freedom than at others to forge
their own identity. So, in the context of rebellion and Stalinist anti-Semitism in 1953, the
state cracked down, accusing East German Jewish leaders (quite baselessly) of Zionism.
It matters that this was the charge—East German Jews were accused of wanting to opt
out of the emerging community of the GDR, even though they were not Zionists.
And so, debate among Jews, contention about who they were and where they
belonged in East Germany was shut down, but not forever. After the death of Stalin and
the easing of tensions after the June 1953 East Berlin uprising, Jews in Leipzig went back
to a way of doing business that looked much more like Weimar than was to be expected.
As early as 1954, Jews in Leipzig were engaged in rigorous debate over who would lead
the community, and over what being a good Jew meant. This varied over time, as Jews
had less room to move in some periods—like 1967, when hostility against Israel in the
Socialist Block reached a peak—than in others, like the 1980s.18 After 1989, we will see
briefly that—though a world has changed since the Weimar Republic—the crucial
determinant of the state and its form and intentions has come back in some important
ways to its starting point in 1933. Just as the different forms of the German state found
Jews valuable as rhetorical and symbolic devices in defining themselves, those German
states went far in determining the level of freedom of Jews to define themselves. Jews in
Leipzig today are free, more or less, to imagine what it means to be a Jew and a German,
to argue between native-born and foreign-born, Orthodox and Reform. This is a case
study in the importance of politics, the intent of the state, and the power of people to live
their lives in differing visions of different Germanies.
Geller emphasizing this ebb and flow of Jewish agency during the East German regime, but he attaches it
more to patronage politics by the most important Jewish leaders. This study focuses a bit less on
institutional give-and-take than Geller, looking more closely at efforts by individuals and groups to run
their own lives in the context of differing state forms.
Chapter 1: “no uniform community”
There had been Jews in the city of Leipzig since at least 1349, when, during a
plague, Jews were accused of having poisoned the wells, and they were “expelled, killed,
and to a large degree brought to disaster.” By 1698, conditions for Jews in the city, now
dependant on an international commercial fair, had improved to the point that the Saxon
King Friedrich August I gave his imprimatur to private religious services for
“Messejuden”, Jews in town for the trade fairs. Gerd Levi, a Jewish trader with interests
in Leipzig, was given the right of residence in the city, the first Jew so privileged; his
sons and grandsons followed suit. In 1767, one of the sons of Herz Jacob, also a trader,
enrolled at the University of Leipzig.19
Between 1688 and 1764, 81,937 Jews visited the great Leipzig fairs, contributing
719,661 Reichsthalers in the punitive “Leibzoll” body taxes. This suggests a relationship
between greater privileges for Jews in the city and the importance of their presence to the
trade fairs and therefore to the fiscal well-being of the city and the Saxon state. Indeed,
this is a theme that will resurface over and over again—the local authorities in Leipzig
frequently extended a bit more compassion to Jews at times when their presence was
perceived to make a difference around the institution of the trade fairs. At any rate, by
the beginning of the 19th century, Jews in Leipzig and Saxony were tolerated more or less
in direct proportion to their value to the state treasury.
Outside of a privileged and useful few, though, Jews were in no enviable position
in Saxony, which lagged behind most of the other German states in emancipation. It was
Juden in Sachsen: Ihr Leben und Leiden, Gesellschaft für christlich-jüdische Zusammenarbeit Dresden,
e.V., Leipzig, 1994. 9-13.
only in 1837 that religious communities in Leipzig and Dresden could be founded under
state auspices, and the same year, the Saxon Crown Prince petitioned the Landtag for
emancipation for the Jews, saying “With all attention to public opinion, I must intercede
on behalf of the Jews. I believe we are responsible for the Jews as humans and as fellow
citizens. I have no different sympathy for the Jews than for all of my fellow men.”20
Though the tone is one of personal political courage and risk, its context—years after the
Napoleonic liberation of the Jews and the 1812 Prussian Emancipation edict—lends that
tone a degree of disingenuousness.
The heir’s protestations notwithstanding, formal equality did not come for the
Jews of Saxony until 1866, with the creation of the North German Federation, and the
consequent regularization of domestic statutes.21 Christians of Jewish heritage had a
slightly easier time of it to be sure, as shown in the career of Felix MendelssohnBartholdy. The great composer and grandson of Moses Mendelssohn was also conductor
of the city’s Gewandhaus orchestra from 1835 to his death in 1847, and founded the
city’s music conservatory.
1837 was the beginning of a decade-long process of founding a Jewish religious
community, or Gemeinde, in Leipzig. Finally, on June 1, 1847, thirty-three Jewish
Leipzigers met in the home of the kosher butcher to elect a Vorstand, or board of
directors. A flaw in the election necessitated a new vote, which was taken on June 23rd.22
By 1838, there were 162 Jews resident in Leipzig; in 1839 the first Jew was granted
Saxon citizenship. In 1855, the Gemeinde built a synagogue, and in 1864 a cemetery. By
Ibid., 13.
Solvejg Höppner & Manfred Jahn, Jüdische Vereine und Organisationen in Chemnitz, Dresden und
Leipzig 1918 bis 1933. Ein Überblick. Dresden 1997, 7.
Steffen Held, “Schalom: 150 Jahre Israelitische Religionsgemeinde zu Leipzig”, in Leipziger Blätter, 37,
Fall, 1997. 34.
1871, the year of unification, there were 1739 Jews living in Leipzig; nine years later,
there were 3179. By 1925, there were 12,594 Jews in the city. There was a new
cemetery in 1928, and by 1931 there were 14 Jewish houses of worship.23 Clearly, there
was a major boom in the Jewish population in the last part of the 19th century, as Leipzig
went from a small and legally marginalized community to the sixth largest in Germany.
What had happened? Like Berlin, Leipzig was the beneficiary of a massive immigration
of Jews from Eastern Europe.
Arrivals from the East
Jews from the East had been among the first and most important initiators of
Jewish life in the city. The most significant were those from the East Galician city of
Brody. It was at the behest of Jews of Brody, in town for the trade fair, that the city gave
its sanction in 1813 for a Jewish cemetery in the city. As the German-born population
grew, especially in the wake of the Prussian occupation of Saxony after the Napoleonic
wars, the division between German and foreign-born became one of the deciding facts of
life in Leipzig. In 1820, the first synagogue was built in Leipzig, and it was a Reform
temple. The division between German and foreign Jews—present from the early 19th
century—was also a division over religion, since the Brody Jews and others from the East
were overwhelmingly Orthodox. It was a division, too, between ideals of assimilation
into German society—the core value of German Reform Jews—and an attachment to a
particular Jewish identity.
Saxon law toward Jews was different from that in Prussia. Saxon Jewish
communities were “Unity” communities. This meant that all Jews had to belong, and
Juden in Sachsen: Ihr Leben und Leiden, 30.
since the community had been founded by German-born Reform Jews, foreign-born
orthodox Jews were obliged to pay taxes to support a temple and a style of worship they
did not endorse.24 It would be some time before an Orthodox temple was founded, and
some time later before it gained support from the Gemeinde.
“Germans” and “Foreigners”
The wave of immigration in the 19th century, and the resulting demographic facts
of life defined the Jewish community in Leipzig right up to the beginning of the Nazi
period. The essential and continuing division within the community was between
“Germans” and “foreigners”, those whose families had been resident in Leipzig for
several generations and those who had come from abroad, and whose numbers were
greatly increased in the great wave of “Ostjuden”. Leipzig was by no means unique in
this conflict but was unusual in the relative makeup of the community. Like all Jews in
German cities, Leipzigers dealt with the divisions between assimilation and particularism,
secularism and public religiosity, Reform and Orthodoxy. What set Leipzig apart was the
ratio of foreign-born to German-born Jews: by 1925, 68% of the Jewish population of
Leipzig was foreign-born.25 In comparison, 19.6% of the Jewish population of Frankfurt
was foreign-born, 10.9% in Königsberg, 8.6% in Breslau. Saxony as a whole had a
foreign-born Jewish population much smaller in proportion than Leipzig did, only
22.2%.26 This made Leipzig unique among mid-sized German Jewish communities.
Only Berlin had a similar ratio.
Held, Schalom, 33-34.
Höppner and Jahn, 9.
Trude Maurer, Ostjuden in Deutschland, 1918-1933. Hamburg, 1986. 76.
Felix Goldmann, who was the Reform “Gemeinderabbiner” or chief Rabbi of the
community through most of the 20th century until his death in 193427, had this to say
about the divisions between “Germans” and “foreigners”: “Leipzig in the second half of
the 19th century was no uniform community in the sense of an intellectual and Jewish
communality, but rather solely a large aggregation of Jews that wanted to form a single
unit not at all. And up to the current day only little has changed on that score.”28 This is
no exaggeration; attitudes about religious, cultural and political differences divided the
community into separate worlds. The foreigners claimed that they were discriminated
against, and it is difficult to refute the charge: until 1884, no Jew who had immigrated, or
whose parents had, could hold Gemeinde membership. Even after that, when
“foreigners” could vote in Gemeinde elections, 25 of the 33 board seats were reserved for
native members.29
Fred Grubel was a lawyer in Leipzig and a leader in the Jewish community there
until dismissed from the bar by the Nazis in 1933. He became director of the taxation
department of the Gemeinde in 1934, moving on to become Administrative Director,
which role he held until his emigration in early 1939. He went on to become the
Assistant to the Director of the Leo Baeck Institute in New York in 1966, taking over the
Directorship in 1968.30 He put it this way: “Heated controversy ruled Jewish life within
the legal framework of the Israelitische Religionsgemeinde of Leipzig.” Rich and poor;
German and Polish; reform and Orthodox; Zionists and assimilationists; new divisions
like those between communists and nationalist war veterans—a myriad of communities
StAL PP-V 4441 Polizeipräsidium Leipzig files on “Zionistische Vereinigung Leipzig” 1934-36, 28
September, 1934.
Höppner and Jahn, 6.
Correspondence with Viola Voss of the Archival Department at the Leo Baeck Institute in New York,
April 27, 2005.
existed under one roof.31 The Leipzig Jewish community was about as divided as it could
be, according to Goldmann and Grubel. But this division reflected a real freedom of selfdefinition for Jews in Leipzig. The debates between different versions of what a Jew in
Leipzig was, what he or she ought to be, were much more likely to happen in a free
The divisions between the “Germans” and the “foreigners”, or “Russians” as they
were sometimes called, never went away entirely; even as late as the Nazi seizure of
power in 1933, one reads of assimilated Jews bemoaning the effects of the foreignlooking Ostjuden on Jewish/German relations. The complaints of foreign-born Jews
about their assimilated and frequently more-wealthy neighbors were enduring ones, too.
However, the admission of non-German born Jews to the board of directors of the
Gemeinde was an important symbol of an increasing equity—or at least respectability—
within the community for foreign-born Jews.
An important and symbolic figure for this change was the eminent Orthodox
Rabbi Ephraim Carlebach. Carlebach arrived in Leipzig from Berlin in 1900. His work
in establishing schools and the Orthodox role in communal life ended with his emigration
to Israel in 1936. He was a leading figure in the construction of the first Orthodox school,
the Höhere Israelitische Schule [the Jewish High School], and the major Orthodox
synagogue, Ez-Chaim. In between, he had emerged as a revered figure among all sectors
of Jewish society in Leipzig, honored with the title of Gemeinderabbiner, equal to the
leading Reform Rabbi in the city,32 and the namesake today of a leading institution
devoted to Judaic studies in Leipzig. His appointment as Gemeinderabbiner in 1924,
“Leipzig: Profile of a Jewish Community during the first years of Nazi Germany” by Fred Grubel and
Frank Mecklenburg, Leo Baeck Institute Yearbook XLII 1997, 160.
Ephraim-Carlebach –Stiftung, Leipziger Jüdisches Jahr-und Adressbuch 1933, 72.
after two decades teaching at the “private” Talmud-Thorah, was a crucial step in
integrating the community.33 By establishing a paid and official position for an Orthodox
Rabbi, the Gemeinde made an important to gesture to foreign-born Jews that they were a
valued part of the community.
Ephraim Carlebach is a symbolic figure, too, in his ability to move beyond the old
divisions of the community: the Orthodox rabbi whose constituency was overwhelmingly
foreign-born was feted by the cream of German-born society when he left, with people
turned away from the synagogue for his farewell service. The man who went to Palestine
to live out his days had been a member of the Centralverein der Deutschen Staatsbürger
des jüdischen Glaubens, an assimilationist group devoted to defending the position of
Jews as good German citizens, since 1926.34 Carlebach’s life and connections point out
that the Jewish community of Leipzig was an increasingly interactive group by the later
Weimar period. The situation was complex. German-born and foreign; rich and poor;
assimilationist and Zionist, all combined to form one of the most varied and sometimes
divided communities of Jews in Germany. Sometime the same people were members of
apparently opposed groups—references to Orthodox foreign-born Jews were to be found
in the records of meetings of the assimilationist CV, for instance. Surely we can expect
similar variety of opinion within the community as a whole.
This fluidity of boundaries between groups in Jewish Leipzig was a sign in the
Weimar Republic of the distinctive freedom of that age. The Republic was founded on
Grubel and Mecklenburg, 160.
StAL, PP-V 4437, Polizeipräsidiums Leipzig file on “Israelitische Religionsgemeinde zu Leipzig”, 193538, 47.
notions of pluralism and liberty, not least for Jews.35 The boundaries between groups of
Jewish Leipzigers—and the freedom to negotiate those boundaries—would collapse in
the Nazi period, because that state was founded on radically different notions of
community and identity.
Jewish Publications
A number of Jewish publications aimed at various audiences were produced in
Leipzig, and a glance through their pages offers clues to the themes that bound together
Jewish Leipzig, just as much as their differences illustrated what divided that community.
The “Zeitschrift des Hilfsvereins israelitischer Gewerbetreibender und für die Interessen
des Judentums” [the Magazine of the Aid Society of Jewish Tradesman and for the
interest of Jewry], which appeared for the first time in 1913, was [as the title indicated] a
journal for craftsmen and a general interest publication, including advertisements for the
Reform and Orthodox synagogues, Carlebach’s Höhere Israelitische Schule, and the
young Zionists’ league.36
A few years later, the “Mitteilungen des Hilfsvereins russischer Juden” appeared.
This was the organ of a local Jewish group dedicated to aiding refugees from Galicia and
Russia, as the name suggests. The mission statement expresses humanitarian goals:
“above all, we must reach an accord with the government to make it possible to ease the
path for those among the army of unemployed who have relatives in America. Thus, we
Article 109 of the Weimar Constitution guaranteed equality of all citizens. Article 135 guaranteed
freedom of religious practice. Both Peter Gay, in Weimar Culture: the Outsider as Insider, New York,
1978, and Donald Niewyk, in The Jews in Weimar Germany, New Brunswick, 2001, make the point that
liberalism was the bond that held German Jews to the new Republic.
StAL, PP-P 147: Zeitschrift des Hilfsvereins israelitischer Gewerbetreibender und für die Interessen des
Judentums, for January 9, 1913.
will help a considerable portion of the homeless.”37 It is perhaps worth noting that the
main goal of this organization was not to help Russian Jews settle in Leipzig, but to ease
their way out of town to the emigration ports.
A few years later, the “Allgemeines Jüdisches Familienblatt [ the General Jewish
Family Paper]” (incorporating “Leipziger Jüdisches Familienblatt” (in its 70th year) and
“Leipziger Jüdische Zeitung”), an explicitly general-interest journal, devoted the front
page of its first issue to a pending visit by the president of the Executive of the World
Zionist Organization, Nahum Sokolov. Sokolov was invited by the Zionist League of
Leipzig, and was to be greeted by “the most prominent Jewish personalities in the city.”
A notice for a travel agent advertised “Forwarding and Removal to Palestine”. There was
also an article on “The German Jewess in Palestine”, and an ad for Jarco Munda beauty
salon, which reminded readers that “permanent waves are recommended: good for
travel.”38 This shows us that the division between “Zionist” and “German” was not as
wide as it might seem (this was a general-interest, long-standing German- language
periodical, devoting much of its capacity to a positive discussion of Zionist leadership)
and that there was support for (or at least consideration of) Zionism outside of the ranks
of Orthodox, foreign-born Jews.
At least a benign neutrality toward Zionism can also be seen in children’s
periodicals. The “Jüdische Kinder-Zeitung” [Jewish Children’s Newspaper] from June,
1926 offered parables about traditional German heroes Max and Moritz and ads for piano
lessons, standard fare for Jews who aspired to membership in the German middle classes.
However, it also featured a section “von Onkel Musja”, which offered the words to
StAL PP-P 149: “Mitteilungen des Hilfsvereins russischer Juden”, first issue.
StAL PP-P 152: “Allgemeines Jüdisches Familienblatt”, first issue.
several songs in Hebrew. Searching out these lyric sheets, or the lessons in Hebrew
offered elsewhere in the magazine, did not mean that the readers were die-hard Zionists,
but it is clear that a complicated relationship to Jewishness, Germanness and Zionism was
very much a part of the mainstream of Jewish life in Leipzig during the Weimar republic.
A sketch of the community
The high point of Jewish life in Leipzig—in numbers, influence and freedom—
was the Weimar period, when Jews comprised 1.8% of the total population of the city, or
12,594 souls. Of those who were in the work force, 41.3% described themselves as
“Kaufmann”, a vague category that encompasses everything from street peddlers to haute
bourgeoisie; 35.5% described themselves as “Angestellte und Beamte” [employees and
officials]; 10.2% claimed status as members of “Freie und akademische Berufe”
[professionals]; 9.8% were artisans, and only 3.2% of Leipzig’s Jews described
themselves as workers, with over a third of those working in the fur district on the Brühl
avenue, and the bulk of those of Eastern European descent.39 Only 4.2% of Leipzigers as
a whole worked in the fur industry, but 8.7% of Jewish Leipzigers did. The Brühl was an
emblem of Jewish economic activity in Leipzig, and of the city as a whole (later, in the
early 1950s, newspapers would hail the return of Leipzig’s status as a “fur city”, albeit
without any reference to the former leaders of that industry).
Compared with the general population of the city, the Jewish population was
much less represented in heavy industry, with 23% of the working population, versus
47.6% of the city as a whole [with 45,591 in machine manufacture alone], and a slightly
Kerstin Plowinski, “Die jüdische Gemeinde Leipzigs auf dem Höhepunkt ihrer Existenz. Zur Berufsund Sozialstruktur um das Jahr 1925”, in Manfred Unger, ed., Judaica Lipsiensa: zur Geschichte der Juden
in Leipzig. Leipzig: 1994. 80-81.
higher percentage of Jews than of the general population worked in the free professions.
In comparison to another German city with a comparable Jewish population, Hamburg,
Leipzig Jews comprised a slightly higher percentage of the city’s population, many more
of them were foreign born, and a greater proportion of the Jewish was work force devoted
to trade than in Hamburg, where finance was more important.40
Jewish Leipzigers were not just employees, of course; they were also
entrepreneurs, and some of the most important in town. As in other major German cities,
department stores were the archetypal “Jewish business”, and in fact, the most heavily
patronized of the stores in town were owned by Jews. The Ury brothers’ store was the
most popular, attracting customers from the turn of the century to their place on the
Roßplatz.41 Walter Ury was active in the integrationist Centralverein.42 Bamberger and
Hertz was a top of the line men’s shop, opened in 1912 as an extension of the Bamberger
family business founded in Worms in 1876. The store was in the Königsbau, originally
the site of the Saxon King’s Leipzig residence and one of the most prominent locations
on the city’s central Augustusplatz.43
The Held brothers, Moritz and Albert, moved to town in 1906, the sons of a
retailer from Külsheim in Baden. They opened their first business in that year, and
expanded to a larger store in Lindenfeld, the workers’ quarter, in 1913. The Helds were
exemplary leaders in the community, active in Jewish and general charities. They offered
free meals for the unemployed, established special funds for deserving employees, and
offered donations regularly to Jewish orphans and students. In 1933, Albert became chair
Ibid., 85-6.
Andrea Lorz, Suchtet der Stadt Bestes: Lebensbilder jüdischer Unternehmer aus Leipzig, 1996: Pro
Leipzig, 26.
StAL PP-V 4506: Akten des PP-Leipzig Kulturbund Deutscher Juden. 22 October, 1935.
Lorz, 44.
of the Israelitische Wohltätigskeitverein [Jewish Charity League]. The Helds were not
just philanthropists, though. They were active and assertive in their business lives, too,
and when their store was hit by fire in 1926, and their insurance carrier balked at
payment, the brothers sued and were successful.44
The most important Jewish department store owner, in civic terms, was probably
Samuel Hodes, whose longevity and devotion to the Gemeinde were responsible for his
being called the leading Orthodox personality in town.45 Born in 1856 in Lithuania to a
religious bureaucratic family, Hodes came to Leipzig in 1887. His store, nicknamed the
“Große Feuerkugel” [the big fireball], in honor of the magnificent baroque building
(since destroyed) in the heart of the inner city where it stood, sold clothing. The store
was successful for many years, but the place of Hodes within the community—he was so
popular that he needed to take out an ad in the Community Newspaper to thank all the
well-wishers on his 80th birthday46—was established by his activity within it. He was a
member of the emergency aid society and the charity union, and a director of TalmudThora school, the Jewish hospital, and the B’nai B’rith Lodge. He took the lead in
providing for the establishment of the great Ez Chaim Orthodox synagogue, and would
continue to provide for the temple as long as he could. Hodes is an important symbolic
figure, too, as one of the first eight foreign-born and Orthodox members of the Gemeinde
board of directors, elected in 1923.47
All of these businessmen were representative of different Jewish experiences.
They were natives and foreign-born, Orthodox and Reform, more or less active in their
Lorz, 70-74.
StAL PP-V 4438, Geheime Staatspolizei, Staatspolizei Leipzig: Israelitische Religionsgemeinde, 8 April,
1938. Report from Vorstand to Gestapo.
Gemeindeblatt der israelitischen Religionsgemeinde zu Leipzig, 8 November, 1935.
Lorz, 136-8, 146, 148.
community, more or less successful in business. Hodes was the preeminent figure in the
Orthodox and foreign-born communities, while Walter Ury and others were dyed-in-thewool assimilationists, a position that would cause them grief in time. They came from
very different perspectives, but the overlapping nature of their professional and public
lives is indicative of a similar trend in Jewish life in Leipzig. Jewish Leipzigers were
growing closer together by the later Weimar period. But there were limits to this growing
closeness—limits of national background, religion and politics. Those limits would only
finally be overcome during the Nazi period, when a dramatic and forced unanimity
became the order of the day.
Club life
The same mix of difference and commonality is seen in an examination of club
life in Leipzig; the city was not immune from what Gemeinderabbiner Felix Goldmann
called the “German vice”. Goldmann asserted that the trends in clubs, or Vereine,
“reflect the vice of Judaism to disunity, often only the result of particularism and
dogmatism. Added to the Jewish sins of overweening individualism and intellectualism
is the assimilationist product of the German vice of organization mania.”48 Let us briefly
examine Jewish club life in Leipzig through the 1920s with an eye toward assessing how
right Rabbi Goldmann was—did Jewish associations reflect disunity, particularism and
Leipzig Jews had the usual, expected array of associations: Zionist,
assimilationist, working class, trade, religious, charitable and sport. The oldest Verein in
the community was founded in 1840, several years before the Gemeinde itself:
Höppner and Jahn, 10.
“Jeschuat-Achim, Verein zur Unterstützung hilfsbedürftiger jüdischer Studenten”
[Society for the support of needy Jewish Students].49 In the next two years, two more
charitable organizations were founded. Over the course of the later 19th Century, though,
many of the charitable functions of the private organizations were taken over by the
Several organizations were founded to deal particularly with the needs of the
growing immigrant and Orthodox communities50: the “Talmud-Thorah Verein” was in
actuality a private synagogue, but this was a violation of the charter of the Gemeinde, and
so the synagogue was called a Verein and the Gemeinde [and, presumably, the state]
looked the other way. As the immigrant and therefore the Orthodox population grew,
Talmud-Torah was followed in 1918 by Ohel-Jakob, focusing on ritual purity. OhelJakob eventually opened a synagogue, as did Ez Chaim (1922), which grew under the
leadership of Ephraim Carlebach to become the largest Orthodox synagogue in Saxony.
The “Jüdischer gesetzestreuen Verband” [Jewish “true-to-the law” Association], founded
in 1920, ran a ritual bath, and the Verein “Mischnajis” Leipzig (1915) declared
themselves open for membership to any Jew who “auf dem Boden des gesetzestreuen
Judentum steht” [stands on the basis of “true-to-the law” Judaism]. 51
Clearly, these organizations were for the Orthodox community, and therefore
endorse Rabbi Goldmann’s claims of divisiveness based on doctrine. There were other
Vereine that were more neutral, of course: sporting, charitable, trade groupings. Even
with these, however, there is some reason to believe the Rabbi. There were seventy-nine
Ibid., 23.
Not all Eastern immigrants were Orthodox, of course, but there is a significant connection between the
groups, as we can judge from the membership lists of Orthodox organizations. Most of the leaders of such
groups were born abroad.
Höppner and Jahn, 23-5.
Jewish Vereine during the Weimar period, including thirteen religious, eight
occupational, seventeen political—of which eight were Zionist—and twelve youth
groups. The last were rigidly segregated according to political outlook—there were five
Zionist youth groups, two “German-liberal”.52 That split was a reflection of the deep
divide in Leipzig Jewish society.
In sum, we can say that the Leipzig Jewish community in the latter stages of the
Weimar period was continuing on a trajectory that it had followed from the 19th century
until that point. It was growing in numbers, it was growing in institutional strength, and
it seemed from much of the evidence to be growing in acceptance bythe larger
population of the city. Its merchants were among the most prominent in town, its
religious figures were widely held in high regard, and if it was a divided community, its
divisions and allegiances along organizational lines were perhaps no more egregious than
that of the larger society.
But there was something different, of course, about the Jews of Leipzig compared
to their gentile neighbors. The bulk of Germans never had to worry about the basic
question of whether they were Germans. They did not have to ask one another, and they
were not asked by anyone else. This was radically different for the Jews of Leipzig, who
were obliged to ask and answer these questions on an almost daily basis. As German
nationalism began to alter over the course of the 19th and 20th centuries, German Jews
were faced with a new set of questions. The ways they asked and answered those
questions created what became the single most important division within the community:
did they have a place in Germany, in the long run? Should they? The conflicts between
Ibid., 24.
Zionists and anti-Zionists formed a long-lasting and bitter division, one which was solved
only at the behest of the least friendly imaginable foe, the Nazis.
The role of Zionism
George Mosse argues that Zionism was a particular form of European
nationalism—an older, 19th-century variety. This model is one of inclusiveness, of
identity based much less on race or religion than on shared cultural identity.53
Assimilationists shared in the basic assumptions of early German nationalism, and
wanted nothing more than to join it, pinning all of their hopes on the development of just
those more liberal elements of nationalism. But Zionists did not; they could not.
Zionism is not a reflection of liberal nationalism: Jewish assimilationism is. Zionism is,
almost by definition, a reaction to another kind of nationalism, one that was based more
on exclusivity for its definition.54 It is, in clear distinction to the integrationist model,
based on a notion of community that is based on religion and common ethnic identity. It
is obvious from the perspective of the present that the CV and its allies bet on the wrong
horse: their vision of the nation, and their place within it, was giving way to something
altogether less open and inclusive. The story that this study will pursue in examining the
Nazi period is not least the story of the increasing consensus among the Jews of Leipzig
that Zionism was the only useful language of national identity. This realization was
made very much under the gun. The Nazis agreed with the desirability of emigration to
Palestine, for a while, and the period of Nazi domination is at times a striking study of
George L Mosse, Confronting the Nation. Jewish and Western Nationalism. 1993, Brandeis University
Press: Hanover and London. 126.
This is of course more true for some groups—the Revisionists—than for others. This point will be
revisited below.
insistence on ideological conformity—conformity to a Zionist line. It is a fundamental
goal of this study to present the malleability and broad usefulness of the language of
Zionism to represent and enforce several different kinds of nationalism, with widely
varying results.
The evidence here suggests the following preliminary conclusion: that the
divisions between different kinds of Jews lessened over time. As the Ostjuden settled
into the community the differences in religion and devotion to a German identity grew
less and less acute, but these divisions were still present and important through the end of
the Weimar period. Further, these readings suggest that Zionism became more and more
a unifying factor in the mainstream of Jewish life, and less the point of contention and
division that it had been and that one might expect. As time went on, and as a language
of nationalism became the coin of the German realm, German Jews—those in Leipzig
included—increasingly adopted a similar language to make sense of their own identity.
That language was Zionism, and though it was not universally embraced, much of its
rhetoric was, or at least seemed to make sense to many Leipzig Jews, whether they
considered themselves Zionists or not.
It seems clear that as Leipzig Jews felt more German—both long-term residents
and newer arrivals—they increasingly spoke the predominant political language of
Germany, a language deeply rooted in 19th Century notions of nationality and
nationalism. Therefore it is to be expected that as Jews were increasingly isolated from a
German national community—as the society around them grew less hospitable in the last
days of the republic and after 1933—they would speak the German political language in
the only dialect allowed, that of Zionism, the Jewish variation of the new nationalism.
They thus displayed the degree to which they had become German, ironically by
embracing an explicitly un-German philosophy.55
Zionism is of course a richly complex set of ideologies, and there are many
different and competing versions of it. In Leipzig alone, there were representatives of the
Zionistische Vereinigung, the mainstream affiliates of the World Zionist Organization,
the Poale Zion, critical from the left of the mainstream as insufficiently attentive to the
issues of the working class, and, on the right, ofState—or Revisionist —Zionists,
demanding a Jewish state and harsh confrontation with the British. These groups were
engaged in an ongoing debate with one another that was sometimes quite extreme. For
instance, the Poale Zion referred to the State Zionists as “these Jewish fascists”56 and to
the Zionistische Vereinigung as “clerical lackeys”.57
Zionism and the reactions to it provided the single largest point of identification
within the Jewish community of Leipzig during the 1920s. Through this issue, dramas of
assimilation, Orthodoxy, and class were played out in a way that everyone could
understand, and as the rise of the Nazis came closer, more and more Jews turned to
Zionism. The bitter divisions aroused by the debates around Zionism were a reflection of
real divisions in the community. But so too was the tone of those debates—the very
assumptions and language of Zionism and those who opposed it—proof of a set of shared
assumptions about political culture and identity in that community. Those assumptions
were largely based on an emerging language of exclusionary nationalism.
Carl Schorske, in his Fin-de-Siècle Vienna, places Theodor Herzl squarely in a context with emerging,
and decidedly exclusionary, visions of nationhood. Here, too, we see Herzl, a Jew brought up in an
assimilationist world, carried by a developing language of politics in Germany [writ large, to include
Vienna, which is one of Schorske’s points] to a position physically outside of Germany.
StAL PP-V 4424, 15 May, 1933.
Ibid., no date but next to clipping dated 14 May, 1925.
There is sufficient evidence to suggest that questions of Zionism often broke
down along lines that mirrored class, religious preference, and national origin. The first
issue of a Zionist paper, “Das jüdische Volksblatt” declared for the SPD prior to the 1928
national elections, for instance, while decrying the “treudeutscher” recommendations of
the “der assimilatorischer Haltung der deutschen Juden bürgerlichen Glaubens” [ the
assimilationist attitude of German Jews of the Civil Faith, a play on the old construction
“German Citizens of the Jewish Faith] and the flirtations of the CV with the right-liberal
German People’s Party, or DVP. Similarly, the Poale Zion encouraged workers to
support the SPD in that election, and to work toward a Jewish-socialist Palestine, but
closed with a cheer for the “Deutsche Sozialistische Republik”.58
There were middle-class Jews active in Zionism, of course: three men with
doctoral degrees were on the first local board of the main Zionist organization, the
“Zionistische Vereinigung”. But that meeting also made it explicit that non German-born
members were welcome, suggesting the importance of the foreign-born working class as
a part of the Zionist constituency.59 That first meeting of the local branch of the ZV was
held in 1925. The signatories to the first charter promised the formation of a
“Heimstätte” in Palestine, along the lines of the program adopted at the first World
Zionist Congress in 1897 in Basel, Switzerland. They stressed youth work, propaganda,
and the development of Jewish spirit among the youth. Membership was open to any Jew
over the age of 18, with voting rights at 20. There was no limit according to citizenship
or place of birth.60 As mentioned earlier, the local leaders of the ZV were as good as
LVZ, 3 May, 1928.
StAL PP-V 1339, Vereinsregister des Amtsgerichts Leipzig “Zionistische Vereinigung Leipzig”, 192533. 22 April, 1925.
StAL PP-V 1339, 22 April, 1925.
their word. In the interwar period, Leipzig had an extremely active and popular Zionist
movement, with youth activities, sports, a vibrant women’s wing, and an increasingly
prominent and respectable role in Jewish public life in the city. Zionism, in its varied
forms, provided many Jews in Leipzig with a rhetorical home, and the numbers attracted
to it only grew over time. But of course, there was another approach to questions of
Jewish identity in Germany.
The first local meeting of the anti-Zionist Centralverein deutscher Staatsbürger
jüdischen Glaubens (the Central Organization of German Citizens of the Jewish Faith,
the CV) was held in Leipzig 14 years earlier, at the Centraltheater in the downtown
Thomasring. The initial Vorstand was comprised of three businessmen, two lawyers, and
a Rabbi. By 1917, the Reform Gemeinderabbiner Dr. Felix Goldmann was involved in
the leadership of the local CV, writing letters to the police on their behalf. The CV, as in
other cities, pursued an assimilationist program, including talks on “Die Jüdische
Internationale” (a debunking session) in 1926, and “Der Jude als deutscher Staatsbürger
und Kulturbürger” [The Jew as a citizen of the German state and culture] in 1928. The
latter meeting was broken up by a contingent of 150 NSDAP men, who were then
confronted outside by the center-left Reichsbanner paramilitary. The ensuing disturbance
was broken up by the police who filed the report on the meeting.61
What divided the camps was obvious: a fundamental disagreement over the nature
of Jewishness and nationality. The opposing groups represented a basic division, and
played out that division, in ways familiar to most students of the period. There were
public relation campaigns, affiliations with political parties, public events, and a serious
StAL PP-V 5007 “Akten des Polizei der Stadt Leipzig, betreffend den Zentralverein [sic] deutscher
Staatsbürger jüdischen Glaubens Orstgr. Leipzig, 1911-40”. Unpaginated.
attempt, at least on the part of the Zionists, to engage masses of people in organizational
life. What united them was something less obvious. I would contend that all of the
Zionists and the anti-Zionists, too, shared two sides of a common language of nationality
and nationalism, and that they shared it not only with each other, but with the larger
German and European political culture of the time.
The larger purpose of this introduction into Jewish Leipzig is to make clear how
varied a world that was. From die-hard assimilationists to adamant Zionists—of several
different kinds—there was an enormous range of experience and perspectives. There was
a lively debate about the nature of identity and what it meant to be a Jew in Germany. It
could only happen in a free political environment. The Weimar Republic—for all that it
had its problems—was such an environment, and so debate and contention were the order
of the day. That would not last for long. In 1933, everything changed for Jews, and the
space for contestation over identity among German Jews shut down in short order. The
new regime had very specific ideas in mind about Jews, and was not about to let Jews
decide these issues for themselves.
Chapter 2: “What would the Führer, Adolf Hitler, say?”: Jewish life under the
Nazis, 1933-38
All of the assumptions that fueled the Zionist position during the 1920s were
given the strongest possible validation with the entry into government on 30 January,
1933 of Adolf Hitler. Starting with the nasty discrimination of the April 1933 boycott
and the laws regarding the civil service and judiciary, followed by the Nuremberg laws in
1935, a wave of anti- Semitism swept the city. Jews in Leipzig found themselves
increasingly on the outside looking in. Their responses to that exclusion—the creation of
a whole new set of institutions in which Jews could operate, and then the victory of the
Zionist position—reflect both radical change in response to radically altered positions,
and a surprising degree of continuity, even as the divisions over national identity,
religion, and ethnicity continued in a dramatically altered form.
Jews in Leipzig were remarkably adaptive to their new conditions, but it is utterly
clear that a large range of options were taken from them beginning in 1933. The debate
over identity—the central question of Jewish life in Germany—changed in tone from
1933, as we will see. Gone were the free exchanges between Zionists and
assimilationists. Gradually, that debate was exchanged for a consensus in favor of
Zionism. This was no free choice, though. Partly in recognition of the danger of their
situation, and partly under direct pressure from their tormentors, the Jews of Leipzig shut
down the market of ideas from 1933. There was no more room for an argument about
who they were. From that point, the central fact of life was the simple drive for survival,
and many did not survive.
Exclusion from public life
Jews were excluded from most elements of German life after the Nazis assumed
power in January of 1933. Beginning with the Law for the Re-Establishment of the
Professional Civil Service, which expelled Jews from the bureaucracy in April of 1933,
the establishment of the Reich Chamber of Culture in September of that year, through the
National Press Law (October), an anti-Semitic vision at least as old as Heinrich Class’
Wenn ich der Kaiser wär was coming to life. The culmination of this stage of the
Holocaust came with the Nuremberg Laws of September 1935, which revoked the
citizenship of German Jews, outlawed intermarriage, and sentenced Jews to second-class
status in their own country.
One example of the exclusion facing Jews was the treatment of Jewish students in
the schools. Like Jewish schoolchildren all over Germany62, the students of Leipzig were
subjected to a gradual process of marginalization, and then expulsion, while the religious
community was obliged to pick up the pieces. It was a gradual process. In April, 1933,
the Leipzig school office sent the Gemeinde a letter, asking for its cooperation in enacting
a new directive from the Saxon Ministry for Popular Education. The directive concerned
itself with religious education, and was to make provisions for the education of Jewish
students in the Jewish religion outside of the schools. The Gemeinde replied with a series
of letters, asking how that compliance was to be achieved.63 The school office followed
The trauma of exclusion from the schools in Berlin is well-captured in the case of Marianne Strauss
Ellenbogen, in Mark Roseman, The Past in Hiding, London: 2000. Especially chapter 2, “Schoolgirl in the
Third Reich”.
SAL Schulamt 1/105/9/6. 13 April, 1933.
up with a circular to all the schools, asking their cooperation with the Gemeinde, and
enclosing a list of all Jewish students, together with a list of Seventh Day Adventists.64
This relatively innocuous beginning was only that, of course: a beginning of a
much more violent regime of segregation. The wishes of men and women like Walther
Lange were soon to be fulfilled. Lange wrote to the school office in October, 1936,
asking that his daughter be transferred to another school, away from the Nordstrasse,
where there were too many Jews for a “Völkisch thinking person” like him. The school
office wrote back, telling him not to fret, since the expulsion of all Jewish students was
Indeed it was. In September, 1935, the Saxon education ministry directed the
local school offices in all the big cities to begin preparing for the expulsion of all Jewish
students. Following a Reich level decision, the religious education facilities of the Jewish
communities were to take on all Jewish students. Educational officials all over town
were advised to set up meetings with their counterparts in the various communities to
deal with the transfer.66
The Leipzig Gemeinde was overwhelmed; the old school facilities were designed
to take care of many fewer students than were now expected to flow into the system.
Officials from the Israelitischer Schulverein [the Jewish schools association] met with a
representative of the Schulamt [local school officals] and asked for state assistance, since
the influx was more than the existing infrastructure could bear, especially given the
difficult economic situation the Gemeinde was dealing with, overall. The Schulverein
also asked that only religious Jews should attend, not all of those declared non-Aryan.
Ibid., 24 April, 1933.
Ibid., 28 October, 1935.
Ibid., 17 September, 1935.
The representative of the Schulamt came to the conclusion that the Gemeinde
ought to bear the responsibility for the new building. His rationale is interesting—he
thought Gemeinde should put up the building since the bulk of the students served by the
Gemeinde were foreigners: 499 of the 551 students at the Israelitische Volksschule, for
instance. The Reich directive only dealt with German citizens, so his argument went, and
so state aid should only be directed to dealing with citizens.67
Protests and pleas for individual exceptions came into the Schulamt. Dr. Friedrich
Blaschke said that his only son Stefan was in danger of expulsion because his mother was
Jewish. He hastened to point out that his personal background (“I am an Aryan”) and
worldview made it important to him that his son be raised “German and Christian.” He
asked that his record as a veteran who had fought three years on the western front of the
First World War be taken into account, and that his son be allowed to stay in school. It is
not known how his requests were ultimately answered.68
Even had Stefan Blaschke been allowed to stay in school, he would have had a
difficult time of it. “Non-Aryan” students were being systematically excluded from life
in the public schools, a process which was often directed against one individual at a time.
By fall of 1936, a girl whose grandmother was one quarter Jewish was forced to leave a
lecture on world bolshevism at the girls’ occupational school. Her father, Hermann
Meyer, objected that the girl’s maternal grandmother, who was Jewish, had no contact
with the girl, or with Meyer’s wife, who had been raised Lutheran. Meyer, like Blaschke,
insisted that his rights as an Aryan and as a war veteran were being infringed. There is
no sign of what happened to Meyer’s daughter, but the occupational school asked the
Ibid., 20 September, 1935; 7 October, 1935.
Ibid., 30 September, 1935.
Schulamt for clarification on dealing with one-quarter Jews.69 The classmates of any
Jewish children who stayed in school probably would not have been supportive, at least
not if they were paying attention to what they were being told in class. According to a
SOPADE (the underground and exile iteration of the Social Democratic Party) report
from 1936, schoolchildren in Leipzig were being instructed “to hold their nose if they
meet a Jew in the street, because the Jews stink fearfully.”70
This exclusion continued, and only got worse over time. The Jewish High School
had to endure more than one refusal before being allowed to use two public playgrounds,
two afternoons a week. Finally, the Schulamt gave grudging permission “if the space is
free.”71 The city water works informed the Schulamt that Jewish children were banned
from the city’s pools, with the exception of special periods, when no one else could come
in and Jewish classes could have the pool—recreational swimming by individuals was
The ban on Jews in the public pools and baths was not just limited to
schoolchildren, of course. The city baths were very popular, and Jews were duly banned
from them, as well, on June 8, 1935. Leipzig was more concerned with its international
image than most German cities because of the Messe [trade fair]. The city therefore had
to deal with fears that this discrimination against Jews would be used against it. In fact,
the economic adviser of the party’s regional leadership expressed unease about
international public perception during the upcoming fairs, going so far as to call Leipzig
Bürgermeister Haake to make his concerns known. Haake responded coolly, saying that
Ibid., 24 October, 1936.
Juden in Sachsen: Ihr Leben und Leiden, Gesellschaft für christlich-jüdische Zusammenarbeit Dresden,
e.V., Leipzig, 1994. 68.
SAL Schulamt 1/105/9/6, 28 April, 1936.
Ibid., 9 August, 1935.
the ban was already published, and it was too late for a revocation of the order to make it
into the news in time for the Messe.73
Later that month, Haake responded to a letter from Carl Sabatsky, the leader of
the integrationist Leipzig CV about the barring of Jews from the baths. Haake’s response
to Sabatsky asserted that the ban was a response to the demands of the population,
expressed in their own “völkische Interesse” (racist interests). Jews could still use their
own communal bath, and the medical baths were still open to Jews.74 Haake was
certainly telling the truth; anti-Semitic measures in Leipzig generally met with popular
approval, from what the archives tell us. Leipzig applied anti-Semitic measures with a
vigor that caused even some of the leadership of the local party to hesitate a bit, as we
saw above, and in fact even those measures taken by the government against Jewish
citizens were not enough for many of their gentile neighbors.
There was an awkward balance of anti-Semitic forces at work in Leipzig.
Sometimes the state, now the party, now individuals from the larger population—each
took a turn in dragging the others along in a more vigorous persecution of the Jews. This
is a complex picture. No one element of the society—not even the Nazi party—always
took the lead. This is important, because when one pillar of the community, say the state,
slackened in the persecution of the Jews, another would rally the community to the cause.
Sadly, it is also clear that though there seemed to be a competition to determine who
could be the most hateful to Jews, there was no dynamic in the opposite direction. There
is little evidence of gentile defense of Jews in this period.
SAL, Kapital 1, #122—Maßnahmer gegen jüdischen Bürger, 1933-45. 8 August, 1935.
Ibid., 19 August, 1935.
On the question of the baths, for instance, we see a letter to the
Oberbürgermeister from Siegfried Hohmann, complaining about the continued presence
of a Jew at the Germania baths. A “German-feeling person”, he viewed it as nothing less
than “a sabotage of the Nuremberg laws” for the owner of the Germania baths to allow
his business to remain open to racially hostile elements. An unsigned response reminded
Hohmann that the city did not own Germania, and that if he wanted to bathe free of the
presence of Jews, he could come to a city-owned bath.75
The Rosenthal
The most consistently expressed dissatisfaction came from non-Jewish residents
who resented the continued presence of Jews in the city’s great forested park, the
Rosenthal, and especially the presence of Jews on the benches in the park. In summer of
1937, an engineer named Hans Schmidt wrote Bürgermeister Haake, enclosing a clipping
from the Angriff. The story was about the Teutoburger park in Berlin, which had put up
signs on their benches that said “Für Juden Verboten” (Forbidden to Jews”). Schmidt
wanted to know why Leipzig couldn’t do something like this in the Rosenthal. Three
days later, Haake wrote to the relevant group in Berlin, asking how they had done it,
noting that “here in Leipzig in the Rosenthal, so many Jews spread out on the benches so
An undated letter to Haake from about the same time apologized for taking up his
valuable time, but noted that he (Haake) was “known as an energetic and sympathetic and
dauntless fighter for the goals of our Führer.” The writer noted that “every Jew insists
Ibid., 25 June, 1936.
Ibid., 24, 27 August, 1937.
that the greatest number of the benches [in the park] be taken for the sons and daughters
of Israel, and they do not budge when “Aryans” want to take a spot, so that a stealthy war
always breaks out between them, with the end result that the shameless and callous
“Itzigs” win.” The writer was so incensed by the injustices committed by the Jews,
apparently still oppressing the Germans despite four years of brutal marginalization, that
he resorted to nostalgia. He was left wishing that “it would be possible to limit them to
living only in designated houses, and in that way to construct a ghetto, as was customary
in the middle ages.”77
The furor over the benches found its way through Haake to the police department.
In mid-September of that year, a police report from the 15th district made it back to city
hall. It counted 2,000 Jews still living in the district, a surprising number given the late
date, and said that, indeed, on holidays and Sabbaths, large numbers of Jews did walk in
the park and sit on the benches. However, the district report said that the numbers of
Jews in the Rosenthal never constituted a hindrance to the Volksgenossen (racial
comrades), and that a ban on Jews at the benches was not recommended.
Two days later, the city Police President sent a letter to theOberbürgermeist er,
Carl Goerdeler78, saying that he thought it was a shame that Aryans had to put up with
Jews in the Rosenthal, and asking for regulations on the matter. The gap between the
career policeman filing his report and the political appointee at the head of his department
is exacerbated by the Oberbürgermeister (OBM’s) office copying the one onto the back
of the other; when one picks up the letter in the archive, it really is two sides of the same
Ibid., page 26.
Goerdeler was later involved in the plot to kill Hitler, his named raised as a possible Prime Minister in a
conservative after the assassination. He also raised protests in 1937 against the removal of a statue of Felix
Mendelssohn-Bartholdy from the Gewandhaus orchestra hall.
story.79 But it only serves to remind us of the complicated nature of public and official
anti-Semitism in Leipzig—here we see, apparently, a disagreement between a lower and
higher-level official. Does this mean that anti- Semitism was imposed from above? We
certainly have ample evidence of it originating from below. Again, we see here a
dynamic of apparent competition as anti-Semites in and out of government topped one
another in demands for more discrimination against Jews..
The city government asked their colleagues in other German cities, and there were
mixed messages from around the country on the subject of park benches. Apart from
Berlin, only Königsberg reported having hung a sign to ban Jews from the parks.
Cologne, Dresden, Hamburg and Frankfurt all maintained that it was not a problem for
them, not yet anyway.80 In January of the following year, the director of the city archive
ordered a sign that said “Juden unerwünscht” (“Jews not welcome”).81
Two months later the new Oberbürgermeister, Walter Dönicke, got a letter from
the regional economic director of the NSDAP, asking for a ban on Jews in the Rosenthal,
since it “was as good as lost to the Volksgenossen, since the Jews make themselves so at
home there.” He wanted “to give our Volksgenossen the possibility to relax undisturbed
after a day of work by going for an evening walk in the Rosenthal.” A few days after he
received the note, Dönicke—a former regional leader in the party—replied, saying that
the Rosenthal was not just a park; it also was a thoroughfare connecting northern and
central parts of the city, and that a large proportion of the city’s Jews lived there. He
would take a look at the situation, but did not think there was a need for a ban.82 The
SAL, Kapital 1, #122—Maßnahmer gegen jüdischen Bürger, 1933-45. 20, 22 September, 1937.
Ibid., 29 September, 1937.
Ibid., 12 January, 1938.
Ibid., 5, 9 March, 1938.
Police President followed up in July of 1938 with a letter asking that most benches in the
Rosenthal be limited to Aryans, and that signs to that effect be placed. He included a
clipping describing the situation in the Rosenthal as untenable: “that it is almost
impossible for a German to find their own little spot.” The Police President asked that
some benches be painted yellow for the use of Jews.83
An indication of how popular the drive to rid the park benches of Jewish
occupants had become can be seen in a semi-anonymous poem in the Leipziger
Tageszeitung from September, 1938 by “Frau E.Z.”. The verse asked for relief for the
besieged occupants of the park neighborhood. A salient excerpt read: “The whole front
of the Rosenthal/ is occupied by innumerable Jews/ and after all we go downtown/
specially after fresh air/ especially for our small children/ forest air is healthier than
stinky air./ If I go with them for a walk/ we have to wander quite a lot/ before we sit—
thank God!/ on a Jew-free bench.”84
A few months later, after the devastation of the Kristallnacht, another letter to a
daily paper was published with the screaming headline “They’re Still Sitting There!”
The writer, signed “Grs.”, complained that Jews were still sitting in the Rosenthal. The
Jews might have reasonably been expected to figure out that things had changed by the
previous October, “instead the Isaacs and Sarahs sit happily, blinking in the sun on the
Ibid., 8 July, 1938. The forced wearing of the yellow star was not national policy until September 1,
1941, but the color yellow was clearly associated in people’s minds with Jews, from the yellow stars
painted on the windows of Jewish-owned businesses during the April, 1933 boycott to traditional Christian
measures against Jews going back at least to the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215. See Carol Rittner,
Stephen D. Smith, Irena Steinfeldt, eds., The Holocaust and the Christian World, New York: 2000, 37.
Leipziger Tageszeitung, 25 September, 1938. German: Das ganze vordre Rosenthal/ bevölkern Juden
ohne Zahl/ und grade uns im Zentrum drin/ nach frischer Luft steht oft der Sinn;/ zumal für unsere kleinen
Kinder/ ist Wald- statt Stinkluft auch gesünder. Geh ich mit ihnen mal spazieren,/ so muß ich schon sehr
weit marschieren,/ eh’ wir mal sitzen—Gott sei dank!—/ auf einen Judenfreien Bank.
path, as though nothing had happened.”85 The writer insisted that, at the least, signs be
put up banning Jews.
Now the Gestapo took a turn. In April of 1939, the Oberbürgermeister got a
letter from the Leipzig office of the Gestapo complaining about Jews in the parks.
“Jewish mothers and their children show a preference for making themselves quite
comfortable on the benches in the “big meadow” in the Rosenthal, so that for
Volksgenossen there is oftentimes no possibility of sitting down. Besides which, it is too
much to expect any Aryan mother to go with their children there, or to send them. The
presence of Jewish mothers with their children brings with it the automatic disadvantage
that German-blooded children play with Jewish children, as can be observed in the
playground near the ‘Frege-Stege’”. The letter requested that the OBM ban Jews from
the city’s parks.86 In a letter signed by Bürgermeister (BM) Haake, the city replied that
this was the province of the Regierungspräsident, not the office of the mayor. Haake also
said that for several months he had been asking for an appointment to talk to the
Regierungspräsident to raise the issue.87
The SD took a turn: the day after Haake replied to the Gestapo, the
Unterabschnittsführer-Leipzig of the Reich Security Service wrote to the OBM. “Even
this late in the season (“mit vorschreitenden Jahreszeit”) the cry has multiplied in the
German-blooded population of Leipzig about the tedious swaggering about of the Jews in
the Rosenthal. The benches which are placed in this park are predominantly occupied by
Jews, generally of a young age, who give not the slightest consideration to making room
for elderly Volksgenossen, at least.” The Unterabschnittsführer demanded that Jews be
Ibid., 25 April, 1939.
SAL, Kapital 1, #122—Maßnahmer gegen jüdischen Bürger, 1933-45. 4 May, 1939.
Ibid., 4 May, 1939.
banned from the park, or at least that benches be set aside for them.88 Haake responded
five days later with essentially the same letter he had written to the Gestapo the previous
Finally, the regional leadership of the NSDAP stepped in. In late June, Haake
was summoned to a meeting to address the issue of “continuing complaints against the
Jews.” At the meeting it transpired that the order that the city believed had given
authority to the Regierungspräsident’s office for regulating the public behavior of Jews
was in fact only designed for Berlin. It was the city’s business, after all, and the OBM’s
office declared in notes from the meeting that it was about to begin establishing a
reserved area (Reservat) for Jews in the Rosenthal.90
A second meeting was held a few days later, and we have the notes from the
OBM’s deputy, Lisso: “In the consultations of the OBM with the deputies the opinion was
put forward that we had no reason to somehow oblige the Jews. They certainly have no
reason to be in the Rosenthal, so that turning over a part of the Rosenthal to them could
not be considered. Likewise they must be made to disappear from the benches on the
ring roads and the surrounding areas. I therefore recommended going to the
Regierungspräsident with the request to prohibit Jews from entering the Rosenthal or
using the benches on the ring, permanently.”91 Two weeks later, an official request came
from the OBM to theRegierungspräsident , asking for a ban on Jews in the Rosenthal,
Johannapark, König-Albertpark, and on all of the benches along the downtown Ring.
Much of the language of the letter was taken directly from the Gestapo’s letter of 25
Ibid., 5 May, 1939.
Ibid., 10 May, 1939.
Ibid., 4 July, 1939.
Ibid., 12 July, 1939.
April, including the prospect of Aryan mothers afraid to take their children where they
might mingle with Jews.92
What we see here was a sort of microcosm of the gradual exclusion of Jews from
public life all over Germany. Various elements in the town—city bureaucrats, writers of
angry letters to the paper, party and police officials of various stripes—demanded that
something be done. Their demands were initially met with resistance from a city
leadership seemingly more concerned with maintaining order than enforcing the strict
racial code of the Nazi party, even on some occasions when the leadership of the city
came from the party itself. This was true not only in Leipzig but in the other big cities of
the Reich, as well, as is seen in the correspondence noted above.
In time, more and more elements of the city’s administration showed themselves
willing to crack down on Jews, especially after receiving letters from the Gestapo, the
SD, and the party itself. We can pause and take note of some important factors. One,
that anti-Semitic measures were not just a top-down or a bottom-up phenomenon. It was
much more complicated than that—ordinary citizens and active Nazis were all involved
in demanding the removal of Jews from public sight. Elements of officialdom were
actively opposed to one another’s vision of what ought to be done, and the only
suggestion of mercy came from a police report. It goes perhaps without saying that the
incident gives us graphic evidence of the popular nature of Nazi anti-Semitism—in its
1938 incarnation, anyway.
Second, we ought to note that, once the bureaucratic ball started rolling—once the
meetings started and various officials began to cast about for a solution—that solution
grew more and more radical. The suggestions moved from some yellow benches for
Ibid., 27 July, 1939.
Jews, to exclusion of Jews from the benches in the Rosenthal and on the Ring, to
exclusion of Jews from all of the above and the other major city parks. This is
characteristic of the multi-faced nature of Nazi governance.
It was characteristic of the Third Reich to have many, competing layers of
authority—in this case, the traditional authority of the city, vested in the office of the
Oberbürgermeister, the Nazi-era regional chief, the Regierungspräsident, and the area
leadership, or Kreisleitung of the party, in addition to several security organs, all of
whom thought themselves competent to make decisions on this question. When these
bodies finally did meet, it was with the apparent goal of trumping each other in radical
cruelty toward Jews.
Others, especially Ian Kershaw, have identified this phenomenon of “working
toward the Führer”—of identifying a policy from the utterances of Hitler, and trying to
outpace bureaucratic rivals in meeting the Führer’s expectations. Because the Nazi state
was so multifarious and vague in its governing style, because the Nazi party was so
radical in its racism, and because state officials perceived their own interests in matching
the perceived radicalism emanating from Berlin, the most radical solution was applied
time and time again. This was true with regard to the exclusion of the Jews of Leipzig
from the benches in the park, as well as in the plans at Wannsee to engage in
unprecedented mass murder. It was true as well as in the efforts of Jews to pursue their
religious practice.
Religious persecution
Religious life during the period of the early Nazi dictatorship was obviously
difficult for the Jews of Leipzig. The old established synagogues had served the
population of the city well, but as the Jewish citizenry grew over the early twentieth
century as a result of immigration from the east, many of the new arrivals found
themselves in makeshift temples. Over the course of the mid-1930s, German officials
began to crack down on Jewish religious observance, under the guise of restoring order,
compromised by the patchwork of smaller synagogues. The reports from the field make
clear that their purpose was no more than harassment, and that Jews were forced to
scramble as best they could, for as long as they could, to provide adequate religious
In September, 1936, the Leipzig Police President called in the lawyer for the
Gemeinde, and complained that there were too many synagogues in town for the police to
keep an eye on. This might have been in response to letters from the Gemeinde to the
police the previous month, warning of big crowds and parking problems at the city’s
synagogues during the high holidays. At any rate, it was the opinion of the police chief
that there were too many Jewish houses of worship in town, and that some ought to be
closed down. 93
The lawyer for the Gemeinde said that he would not mind shutting some of them
down, but that immigrants from the east were particularly attached to their neighborhood
temples, and would probably not come downtown for services at the Gemeinde temple on
Gottschedstrasse. The police chief ended the meeting by telling the Gemeinde’s
StAL file pp-v 4437, Polizeipräsidiums Leipzig file on “Israelitische ReligionsGemeinde zu Leipzig”.
26, 28 August, 1 September, 1936.
representative that the community would have to close down and merge some
synagogues in the coming year. He followed up by writing letters to his opposite
numbers in Berlin and Frankfurt, and concluded from their responses that Leipzig had too
many synagogues for a Jewish community of its size.94
Even before he had heard back from Frankfurt and Berlin, the Police President
asked his political section to compile reports on the existing synagogues in the city, their
numbers of visitors and conditions. In the first precinct the Tiktiner-Synagogue, in the
Brühl fur-trading district downtown, was 12 meters long, 8 across. It had 93 seats for
men, and 62 for women, with one altar (the word used by the policeman, probably
referring to the ark) and one podium. It had been standing since 1878, and its condition
was “worthy”.95
The second precinct sent in a chart, with listings for nine places of worship,
ranging from the “clean” Ohel-Jakob-Synagoge in Keilstraße, with 300 visitors, to the
“unworthy” Jassyer-Synagog, which shared a building with another “dirty” hall, that of
Bochnia-Synagoge, in the Gerberstraße. Both had about 50 visitors.96 A temple in the
Eisenbahnstraße, and a theater used for high holidays in the Tachauer Straße received
higher marks from their police reviewer, who noted that the full congregations in both
(100 in one, about 400 in the other) went all but unnoticed by the non-Jewish population,
“because the visitors to these temples did not hang around in front of them.”97 This
comment begins to give the lie to the announced purpose of the crackdown on religious
Ibid., 8, 17, 30 September, 1936.
Ibid., 10 September, 1936.
Ibid., 26 September, 1936.
Ibid., 27 September, 1936.
life which was to prevent disorder. There was none to be prevented. The interests of the
police must have been elsewhere.
The northern police division compounded this impression with their report on
services held in the Gemeinde’s property in the Landesbergerstraße. The room held
about 30 people, with entrances through the court and cellar—that is to say, no front
entrance. With holiday decorations up, the policeman noted, the room looked “worthy”.
He also noted that “The holidays were so unobtrusive that disinterested people would not
have noticed them.” The Jews of Leipzig were not giving the police or anybody else
reason to complain. What, then was the police chief after?
The other reports that came in, about the monumental Gemeindesynagoge in the
Gottschedstraße, and the Ez-Chaim with over 600 seats, and many others, give the same
impression. They were generally in good shape, and there was no report of disturbance.
The 20th precinct sent word of a temple in some rented space in the “Golden Eagle”
tavern in the Angerstraße. The hall was in good condition, and not recognizable from the
street. The policeman reported that 50-60 “mosaisch Gläubige” (not “Juden”, but
members of the mosaic faith, the formulation used by integrationist Jews) came and went
in groups of two or three in an unobtrusive way. Those who drove parked on a side
street, and traffic was not blocked at all.98
With all of these reports in his hand, the Police President then went on to order
that the Jewish new year could only be celebrated in “operational holy places.” One is
struck again here by the gaps in tone between the orders and decisions emanating from
the political center of the police force, and the tone and evidence employed by police
officers in the field. The chief had obviously wanted a report that would justify shutting
Ibid., 26 September, 1936.
down synagogues, and he did not get it. Clearly, he was motivated by something other
than the reasons he shared with his officers.
What that “something” was may be more clearly seen in an episode involving, as
the affair of the Rosenthal had done, a dynamic relationship between party, state and
people. In September, 1936, a woman named Anny Hoffmann, whose husband was a
member of the NSDAP, wrote a letter to the vitriolic anti-Semitic journal, Der Stürmer.
In it, she said that she had been interested by an article in the previous issue, discussing
celebrations of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. She wanted to write to the Stürmer to
discuss an event in her neighborhood in Leipzig. She and her family lived in Neu-Gohlis,
a housing development formerly owned by Kroch, the same (Jewish) man who had built
the first skyscraper in downtown Leipzig. Hoffmann pointed out that during the
“Systemzeit” (“time of the system, meaning the Republic), Kroch had been known as the
king of Saxony. The problem was that a laundry room in her area was being taken over
by Jews for celebration of the holidays. She said that when this happened, all of the
housewives had to use another laundry room, and if this was not bad enough, were forced
to bear witness to this “Jewish underhanded dealing” (jüdischen Gemauschels) when the
60 Jewish families that lived in the development came streaming through with bag and
Powerless, one stands before these events, and it takes real discipline to walk by,
as if nothing were happening. Report after report has already been sent to the
authorities and read, but everything has thus far met with no success. We even
had to witness that over this site (flags had been ordered to be put up) a swastika
flag waves proudly. Of all places, a [party] cell leader lives over this synagogue.
And, dear Stürmer, the whole “Mischpoge”[sic: probably “Mischpoke”, “tribe”] is
watched by a German policeman in uniform during their hate sermons. What do
you say, dear Stürmer, and what would the Führer Adolf Hitler say, if he had to
observe all of this with us. Could you not publish this article as a horrible
example? 99
In late November, the police department received a letter from the NSDAP
Kreisorganisationsamt (regional organizational office), along with copies of Hoffman’s
letter to the Stürmer, and a letter from the local party leader from the area. The cover
letter called attention to the enclosures, and asked for help soon. The letter from the local
leader had made the original call for attention to Hoffman’s letter, and it also complained
about the services in the laundry. He had heard many complaints, he said, and had asked
the authorities to do something about it, but had been told that religious activity could not
be interfered with.
The agitation among the party comrades was often very strong, especially during
the interminable Feast of the Tabernacles, so that I myself had to step in, to avoid
any rash steps. I would welcome it very much, if the Jews’ perpetration of their
religious practices, which is often connected to very loud noises, were forbidden
in the development, because there is after all a synagogue in Leipzig at their
disposal. The long distance [Neu-Gohlis is several miles from the downtown
synagogue] is not a consideration, because the Catholic residents also have a great
distance to cover to their church. At any rate it is really expecting too much of the
other residents, especially those of National Socialist sensibility, to have to listen
Ibid., 30 September, 1936.
to and watch the greetings of Jewish residents on the street, which often happen
under the swastika flag (the treasurer of the Ortsgruppe (local party group) lives
above the wash house synagogue).100
I do not think that these popular demands for persecution of Jews were especially
representative. There were not thousands of such demands—really more a handful.
What had changed? The state, and its attitudes toward Jews. Just as German Jews had
their rhetorical [and of course physical] space narrowed by the transition to Nazism, so
did gentile Germans find their rhetorical arena shifted. The form of the state went far in
determining which “popular” whims would be honored, no matter how popular they
really were.
Shortly after the intervention of the Party leadership, an internal memo from the
24th police precinct described what the police found when they actually investigated the
wash-house synagogue. It turned out that the wash room in question was not generally
used as such, because it was not hooked up to the hot water main. The religious services
were held in an inconspicuous manner. They were observed by the police, and they
ended punctually. There was no disturbance or inconvenience. There had been no
complaints lodged with the police. It seemed clear that this was a manufactured crisis.
Obviously, zealously anti-Semitic individuals were trying to whip up actions toward the
Jews when none were required, even according to the perverse logic at work at the time.
And the police on the beat were not hesitant to say so.101 Despite this rather tepid risk
assessment from the field, the Police President took action. He reported to the NSDAP
Ibid., 21 November, 1936.
Ibid., undated, but clearly filed between letters of 21 November and 17 December, 1936.
Kreisleitung that, even though the police report had shown that the laundry room was not
generally used, he was reducing locations for Jewish celebration of the holidays. By the
following year, he wrote, the wash room synagogue would be shut down.102
He was as good as his word. In April, 1937, both of the Gemeinderabbiner, the
Reform Goldschmidt and the Orthodox David Ochs, were summoned to the Gestapo and
told that Leipzig had too many synagogues, compared with Frankfurt. Before the police
took action, they were told, it would serve the community well to shut down the marginal
synagogues—the ones in “unworthy condition”, the Golden Eagle, and the laundry
synagogue in Neu-Gohlis.
The rabbis agreed, but then, after a meeting with the leaders of some of the
smaller synagogues, came back to plea for restraint. They reminded the Gestapo in a
letter that the small synagogues were independent of the Gemeinde, that it was important
to be in walking distance on the Sabbath, that the communities had historical ties with the
halls in question, and that there were, after all, real religious and cultural differences
between different kinds of Jews in Leipzig.103
Goldschmidt was informed that the washroom synagogue’s days were numbered,
that it could stay there for the time being, but that police approval was being withdrawn.
But in late summer a homeowner in the development, Erich Blumenfeld (it is not clear
whether he was Jewish), offered the use of an empty home in the development as a
substitute. Despite Gestapo warnings that only one Jewish family lived in the new
Ibid., 17 December, 1936.
Ibid., 8 April, 2 June, 1937.
building, and that complaints would certainly be forthcoming, the Gemeinde was told on
the 24th of August that they could use the empty house.104
Services were held in the new building through September. They were quiet, the
report from the 24th precinct said—no one would notice them if they did not already
know about them. There had been no complaints from neighbors. However, it was then
decided “due to the concerns of the surveyor’s office”, to cancel permission for the
services, and to disperse the congregation.105 A pattern emerges: Jews going about their
business, as quietly as they could, until denounced by a zealous and politically connected
anti-Semite, who brings public and official attention to the “problem”, in this case, Jews
using an unused wash room to worship. After the denunciation, party and municipal
officials engage in a sort of dance, going back and forth between the rhetorical claims of
necessity—the Jews were creating a disturbance, they were rubbing Aryans’ noses in it—
and the course suggested by the simple truth coming from field police reports.
Eventually, the most punitive solution was the one chosen.
The Lehrhaus
The combination of official persecution and popular hostility, especially as seen
in the institutions of public life—schools, parks, theatres, and so on—drove Jews into
isolation and, therefore, into a new culture of self-reliance. Perhaps the most impressive
and telling achievements were in education. As a way of serving the many Jewish
students who were being excluded from academic and vocational institutions around
Ibid., 18, 23, 24 August, 1937.
Ibid., 15 September, 1937.
town, the Gemeinde founded a “Lehrhaus” in October, 1935. It emphasized Jewish
studies, technical classes, and language classes.
We know a great deal about the curriculum and instructors of this school, because
its leaders were required to submit weekly course plans to the state police. In Jewish
studies, courses were taught on Talmudic ethics, the Prophets, observation of holidays,
folklore, like the stories of Mendele Mokher-Sforim, and the conditions of Jews in
Germany, with an emphasis on Palestine.106 The faculty was fairly evenly divided among
Zionists and non-Zionists, with 10 teachers belonging to Zionist groups, 7 to
integrationist groups, and 10 to neither. The Zionists taught courses on the Prophet
Amos, the Rabbi Löw, medicine, French, and bookkeeping for beginners, as well as
much that dealt with Palestine. The integrationists taught English, Talmudic ethics and
By November, 1935, many of the educational functions of the Gemeinde had been
transferred to the Lehrhaus, and it had become a central focus of community life. Some
of the most prominent Jews in the city acted as lecturers. The leader of the integrationist
CV, Kurt Sabatsky, taught about the current legal situation of the Jews in Germany,
including employment law. Gemeinde Rabbis Gustav Cohn and David Ochs lectured on
Talmudic ethics and the accomplishments of the Jews in Germany, respectively. Full
professors, engineers and physicians held courses on anatomy, technology and “Hygiene
and sicknesses in Palestine.” Arnold Muscatblatt, proprietor of an electricians’ shop,
taught “Technical measurements for metal workers.”108
Ibid., January 2, 1937.
Ibid., 13 April, 1937.
Gemeindeblatt der ReligionsGemeinde zu Leipzig, 6 November, 1935, pg 4.
For the next several years, until Kristallnacht, the Lehrhaus operated as a sort of
clearing house of Jewish knowledge in the city. It seemed to offer a balance between
Zionist and integrationist positions and instructors, a balance that could not have been an
accident in an organization so closely tied to the central personalities and institutions of
Jewish life in Leipzig. This balance was especially pronounced in the first year or so of
the Lehrhaus’s existence. Sabatsky taught a class on modern Jewish history, for instance.
In this class, he emphasized the long history of Jews in Leipzig and in Saxony, played up
the positive role of the Prussian monarchy (sure to inflame the Saxon policeman taking
the notes), and pointed to the patriotism of German Jews in 1870 and 1914. Even when
he got to the post-1933 period, he gave a sober assessment of the effects of the
Nuremberg laws, but asserted that a period of calm had followed. He acknowledged that
Jews in Germany had been excluded from the national community, and discussed the role
of emigration aid societies, but, in sum, his course was an assertion of the role of German
Jews in German life, and their continuing place there.109
But at the same time, there were discussions of “Basic questions of Zionism” by
Dr. Ernst Markowitz, and “The history of the Jews of Palestine.” There were many
classes on foreign language, especially Hebrew, and some emphasis on practical, manual,
and technical work, both reflections of Zionist notions that German Jews had to turn to
more practical education in preparation for eventual emigration.110 In the early period of
the Lehrhaus, as in much of Jewish life during the period, a kind of truce was called
between Zionists and integrationists.
StAL PP-V 4439 Polizeipräsidium Leipzig; Geheime Staatspolizei, Staatspolizeistelle Leipzig: Israel.
ReligionsGemeinde, 1938-1940. 14 January-11 February, 1936.
Ibid., 22 January, 1936; 29 January, 1936.
During this period of balance, and extending past it, one can see a clear bias of
concern on the part of the German state authority. The curricula were delivered to the
police every week, several days ahead of time, and the police seemed to take their
oversight obligations fairly seriously, so that observers were sent and reports filed on
dozens of instructors and courses. For instance, the same week that Sabatsky lectured on
modern Jewish history, the course on “Basic questions of Zionism” began, but the police
found no need to send an observer. It seems that Zionists—along with religious and
technical instructors—were not made the target of state observation as frequently as
known integrationists, who were, one can surmise, seen as some sort of threat or
undesirable presence.
The relationship between Nazis and Zionists is a difficult one to assess. Saul
Friedländer makes the point that the Nazi regime supported Zionism as the only course
for Jews to take, though this was only “instrumental”: “The Zionists had no doubts about
the Nazis’ evil designs on the Jews, and the Nazis considered the Zionists first and
foremost Jews.”111 Francis Nicosia expands on this, offering the useful formulation that
the Nazis exploited Zionists in a context of brutality against all Jews. But even Nicosia
recognizes that for much of the Nazi period, it was in the interests of the Nazis to
encourage and favor Zionists.112 This is what we see here, and at other points. The
German government cast a considerably heavier net of surveillance over known
integrationists than known Zionists. The range of possibilities for Jews to define
themselves was being cut off by the German state.
Saul Friedländer, Nazi Germany and the Jews, volume 1, the Years of Persecution, 1933-1939. 1997:
New York, 63.
Francis Nicosia, The End of Emancipation and the Illusion of Preferential Treatment: German Zionism,
1933-1938 Leo Baeck Institute Yearbook, XXXVI, 1991: 244.
Over the course of early 1937, class offerings were reduced, until by April only
shorthand, languages, and bookkeeping were offered. By the 18th of April, regular course
offerings had been largely replaced with “Kursabende”, topical lectures on weekday
evenings (Sunday having been declared off-limits to Jewish groups for meetings113).
During these topical evenings, the former balance between Zionist and integrationist
offerings in the regular curriculum was entirely absent. Topics during January 1938
included Rabbi Cohn on “The State of Israel in decisive moments in history”, Dr. Jacob
Braude on “The intellectual environment of Palestine”, and a Dr. Joel on “The
Geography of Palestine”.114
There were talks by Dr. Robert Weltsch of Berlin, on the controversial Peelreport, and its effect on British policy in Palestine.115 There were no offerings after 1937
from Kurt Sabatsky or any other person associated with anti-Zionism. This may have
been the result of continued surveillance and pressure from the police. It may have also
reflected a lack of people willing to argue for the integrationist position.
On 7 March, 1938, there was a fairly pivotal moment in the history of the
Lehrhaus and indeed of the Gemeinde and of all Jewish life in Leipzig. Dr. David Ochs,
the Orthodox Gemeinde Rabbi, spoke on “Education and Religious Life in Palestine.”
700 people came, drawing a Gestapo observer. Ochs told his mostly male listeners that
the Jews faced a time of great crisis. The bulk of the talk was about getting ready to go to
Palestine. Everyone must prepare themselves in artisanal and farming skills, he insisted.
He pointed to Jewish youth as an example, learning Hebrew, mechanics and agriculture,
English and Arabic. He said that the Sabbath was venerated in Palestine. He concluded
StAL PP-V 4437. 28 October, 1936.
StAL PP-V 4439. 16 January, 1938; 23 January, 1938; 30 January, 1938.
Ibid., 9 February, 1938.
by saying of Erez Israel: “You belong here, you are at home here. Everyone who looks
out at the land from Haifa and experiences prayers at the Wailing Wall has this
Such an emphasis may be a sign that a communal consensus on Zionism had
emerged by early 1938. If the Lehrhaus had abandoned its original commitment to
balance between Zionist and anti-Zionist instructors and materials, it could only be for
the same reason that this important representative of official Jewish Leipzig, Rabbi Ochs,
discarded the same cloak of impartiality. The community had come to a conclusion, and
it was in favor of Zionism.
The range of possible Jewish activity was dramatically narrowed by the Nazi
assumption of power, as we have seen, and trends and movements that had not been
especially popular became much more so, like State Zionism. On the other hand, some
Jews, especially younger ones, began to do things they had never done before. One
possibility for dealing with the National Socialist regime was to engage in active
resistance. Leipzig was an important center of resistance to the Nazis, which is not
surprising given its long history as a stronghold of the Communist party. And, in fact,
resistance in the city was driven by former members of the communist youth league.
Between late summer 1934 and spring 1935 alone, 1,600 people were arrested for anti-
Ibid., 7 March, 1938.
government activity in Leipzig. Many of these were members of the “Zelle Zentrum”,
and a few were Jews.117
Solvejg Höppner concludes that, for the few Jews in the Zelle, working class
identity was more important than Jewish identity and that these young people were acting
in response to the repression of working class parties and groups, rather than to the
burgeoning persecution of the Jews.118 Most were from working class families, but some
were educated middle class adherents of Social Democracy. There were six Jewish
members of the Zelle—all but one of them had been members of the Gemeinde, but all
were forced to realize their Jewishness by the Nazis. At any rate, the Gemeinde and other
traditional Jewish organizations were ill-suited as loci of resistance; they were too closely
watched, and far too concerned with legality.119 We cannot really call this Jewish
resistance, per se. This was a non-sectarian Socialist resistance. It was, however, a route
open to Jews who wished to resist.
The Zelle was eventually denounced after a conversation was overheard in
someone’s garden. Most of those imprisoned served short jail terms. Horst Blaustein,
who came from the SPD, served a brief term, and then disappeared underground, serving
as a courier between Leipzig and Berlin for the duration of the war. He was the only
member of his family to survive. Walter Gutmann was released and told to leave the
Solvejg Höppner, “Juden in Leipziger Widerstand 1933/34”, in Judaica Lipsiensia: zur Geschichte der
Juden in Leipzig, herausgeben von der Ephraim-Carlebach-Stiftung, Redaktion: Manfred Unger. Leipzig,
1994: Edition Leipzig, 158
Ibid., 157.
This represents a somewhat different phenomenon than the Jewish Communists who returned home
after 1945, as discussed by Karin Hartewig in Zurückgekehrt:Die Geschichte der jüdischen Kommunisten
in der DDR. Those Jews, at least on the national level, were more likely to be atheists. These resisters in
Leipzig were more likely to identify themselves as Jewish in a religious sense. Indeed, this distinction is to
be found after 1945, too, as the leadership of Leipzig Jewry was more involved in religious life than
Hartewig’s subjects.
country; he was last heard from in Yugoslavia. Georg Gerst served four years, and then
was allowed to leave the country. His last known address was in Paraguay. His brother,
Alfred, served three years and nine months, before he was released into the custody of
Rabbi David Ochs. He was murdered in Sachsenhausen concentration camp in February,
Hermann Gottschalk was incarcerated for two years and three months before he
was released. He was eventually re-arrested, and was murdered in Dachau in 1937. His
sister Erica had the best outcome, serving three years in jail, during which she renounced
Judaism and resigned from the Gemeinde. She eventually ended up in Sweden, where
she married an Austrian refugee. She found work as a foreign correspondent for English
language newspapers there, and became active in Amnesty International in later life.120
One of the other options open to Jews in Leipzig during these early years of the
Nazi regime was, of course, to leave the country. From 1933 to September, 1935, 800
Jews emigrated from Leipzig to Palestine alone—we do not know the numbers for other
destinations.121 Many prominent people left town in these early years, including Ephraim
Carlebach, the esteemed orthodox Gemeinderabbiner, who followed two of his sons out
of the country.122 Losses at the Gemeinde and its organs were so great that those Jews
who remained in town were obliged to take on responsibilities they would not have
otherwise had. Samuel Sonnabend, the bass in the synagogue choir, left and the
Gemeinde was forced to ask permission from the authorities to hire a Polish national.
Ibid., 163-5.
StAL 4437, 25 September, 1935.
Ibid., 26 February, 1936.
Similarly, when the staff of the annual winter charity drive left town, the community had
to ask permission to take on their former cemetery attendant, Rudi Goldberg, who had
been fired from that job because of Polish citizenship, at no pay.123 Kindergarten
teachers, gardeners, religious workers, and many more left the country, and the Gemeinde
was forced to beg the state for permission to hire foreign and “stateless” Jews.124
Many went to Palestine; the Institut für Wanderungswesen und Auslandkunde
(Institute for the Study of Migration and Foreign Cultures) in Leipzig counted over
10,000 Jews from the whole of Germany leaving for Palestine in the last nine months of
1933 alone. The Institut also noted that professionals were among the émigrés, and
wished the Zionists success in reeducating such people for the realities of life in
Palestine.125 Not surprisingly, the leadership of the Zionist organizations was severely
depleted by this sort of emigration. Dr. Fritz Loebenstein, who had been chair of the
local Zionist organization since the Nazi assumption of power in 1933, joined his two
daughters in Palestine in 1936. A huge party was given for his departure, noting his work
as leader of the organization in hard times, and his work as a pediatrician, giving thanks
that he would be bringing German science to Palestine.126 Other Zionist groups suffered
similar losses.
Palestine was not the only option. Many Leipzig Jews went to the USA.127 In
fact, one Zionist speaker at a group meeting argued that many more Jews were going to
StAL 4439, 6 September, 1938.
StAL 4438, 6 April, 1938.
SAL Kap. 1, #2 Band 3, pg. 113.
StAL PP-V 4441 Polizeipräsidium Leipzig files on “Zionistische Vereinigung Leipzig” 1934-36, 16
April, 1936.
E.g., Gemeinde welfare officer Julius Folmann, 11 May, 1938; Dr. Michael Lipschütz, former religious
teacher, reported January 9, 1939. Both in StAL 4438.
the USA than to Palestine.128 He noted that those who went to America were generally
not Zionists themselves. Some, like Gemeinde worker Bote Naftali Schmulewitsch,
sought refuge in Argentina.129 Some Leipzig Jews, driven by ideology, went to the
USSR. Things did not work out well for many of them.
Samuel Katzenellenbogen, a musician who had been an active member of a
Communist Party (KPD) agitprop troupe, fled to the USSR only to fall into the hands of
the terror machinery in 1937. He was last seen in a prison camp, obviously mistreated.
Erika Rotzeig, who had studied with the estimable Henrietta Goldschmidt and had been a
Kindergarten teacher at the Israelitische Schule, was a communist. She emigrated to
Moscow with her son, where she worked at the Karl-Liebknecht-Schule until she and the
rest of the German faculty were arrested in 1937 and 1938. Hilde Hauschild, a KPD
member, went to the USSR but was arrested in 1937, and was turned over to the Gestapo
in 1940, after which she disappeared. Clearly, Russia was not the best place for Jewish
émigrés from Leipzig.130 It was obvious by the middle of the 1930s that many Jews in
Leipzig had concluded that emigration was now mandatory. The balance of power in the
Jewish population of the city had swung drastically in the direction of the Zionists, and it
was not coming back.
The Kulturbund
One of the areas in which this transfer of power was most evident in Jewish life in
Leipzig between 1933 and 1938 was cultural activity. In the efforts of the Kulturbund we
StAL PP-V 3937/9 Polizeipräsidium Leipzig files on Zionistische Vereinigung Leipzig, 1936-1939, 29
November, 1937.
StAL 4438, 3 August, 1938.
Günter Fippel, “Zum Schicksal Leipziger Juden in der Sowjetunion nach 1933 und in der DDR bis
1953” in Judaica Lipsiensia, 210-212.
see many of the themes of the Jewish experience in this time brought to the stage, as it
were. Jews were given less and less space in the public sphere. Accordingly and with
great resourcefulness, they created a new, if segregated place where they could work, and
some of the leading cultural lights of Leipzig shone in a much narrower focus.
But, segregation was not sufficient in the long term for the Nazis, and they
gradually restricted the autonomy of the Kulturbund in Leipzig, until it could no longer
function. The state played a larger and larger role in the functions of the Kulturbund over
time. In the dealings of the state and with the Kulturbund, we see a strong example of the
favor shown by the Nazis toward Zionists during this period. No real good was done the
Zionists of Leipzig, but we can say that non-Zionists had a distinctly disadvantaged
The earliest activity of a Kulturbund in Leipzig was a November, 1933
production, appropriately, of Nathan der Weise, the classic apologia for Jews in
Germany. This was put on by the visiting Dresden Kulturbund, with assurances to the
police that audience members would be asked on the way in whether they were Jews.131
Over the next few months, the Leipzig police wrestled with the requirements for such an
organization in their own town—they found out from the Prussian authorities that only
Jews could be members of a Kulturbund; that they needed passports with pictures to
prove that they were Jews; that they could not sell tickets; that all programs had to be
cleared with the appropriate authorities a month in advice, and that the Kulturbund could
not advertise its productions, except in Jewish publications. The police tried to ascertain
StAL PP-V 4506: Akten des Polizeipräsidiums Leipzig Kulturbund Deutscher Juden (Jetzt Jüdischer
Kulturbund Leipzig). 23 October, 1933. Play presented 6 November.
whether these rules applied to Leipzig, before concluding that the city had no
Three days before the Dresden group’s presentation of Nathan der Weise, a
lawyer named Jacoby had approached the police with the intention of forming a local
Kulturbund, only to be told by the police that doing so was not desirable.133 There the
matter stayed for over a year, though the police received a notice from the Saxon ministry
for culture, noting that purely Jewish cultural groups did nothing to hinder the end of
Jewish influence in the larger society, and were therefore not objectionable.134 Finally, in
December, 1934, the police noted the formation of a regional group of the Cultural
Organization of the German Jews (Ortsgruppe of the Kulturverband Deutscher Juden in
Leipzig), along with a note describing the Vorstand, or governing Board, of the
The Kulturbund Deutscher Juden Ortsgruppe Leipzig, as the organization became
known by early 1935, was nothing less than the cultural showplace of the cream of
Jewish life in Leipzig. There were 575 members of the group, plus spouses. The
Bamberger brothers, owners of the department stores, were on the membership rolls, as
were their competitors Samuel Hodes and Albert, Max and Moritz Held. Rabbi Ephraim
Carlebach was a member, along with all of his family. The Reform rabbi Gustav Cohn,
and his son Dr. Felix Cohn joined them. Fritz Kroch, the erstwhile “King of Saxony” and
still owner of substantial portions of downtown and residential property in Leipzig, was a
member, as was Kurt Sabatsky, leader of the assimilationist CV.
Ibid., 15 July, 1933.
Ibid., November 3, 1933.
Ibid., 17 July, 1934.
This group was more than the cream of Leipzig Jewish society; it was the elite of
native-born, Reform, and assimilationist Jewish society. Despite the presence of some
prominent orthodox and foreign-born Jews, much of the group, and its entire leadership,
was German-born and reform.135
The Vorstand was composed of Conrad Goldschmidt,
described by the police as one of the best lawyers in town and a well-known
integrationist, Tanja Ury, a pianist, and wife of the well-known department store owner,
and Dr. Hans Abelsohn, a physician, and the only ardent Zionist of the three.136 The
cultural biases of the Kulturbund soon made themselves felt in its programming choices.
The first concert of the group, attracting 550 listeners, was a presentation by the
Mendelssohn-Trio-Leipzig, with pieces by Mendelssohn, Tchaikowsky and Mozart. The
choice was a natural one for the group: Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy represented
everything they held dear about the German-Jewish synthesis. The composer and
conductor of the Gewandhaus orchestra, as noted on the back of the program, had
founded the conservatory and made Leipzig a world-class cultural city.137 He was a man,
and a symbol, of whom integrationist German Jews could be proud. He was, of course,
also a symbol of a deeper assimilation than even the most ardent integrationists in the
audiences would accept—he was a Christian. This fact did not stop either the Kulturbund
from claiming him as their own, or the state and Nazi party from assigning him the same,
Jewish identity.
This cultural bias was perhaps even more pronounced in the next concert by the
Kulturbund. Presented in two parts, the evening was an ode to the German-ness of the
Jews of Germany and Leipzig. The first part, “Berliner Bilderbogen 1900”, was a
Ibid., 4 April, 1935.
Ibid., 21 December, 1934.
Ibid., 28 May, 1935.
collection of nostalgic sketches and songs from the German popular light theater of the
turn of the century. This exercise in nostalgia was an effort to remember a time when
German Jews were more clearly German, as well as a paean to a broadly German shared
cultural experience.
The second half of the evening was perhaps even more telling. “Ostjüdischer
Bilderbogen” consisted of songs, dances and dialect humor from the Shtetl. This
placement of “Ostjuden” in juxtaposition to the solid German Jews who had enjoyed
middle class life and culture during the empire served to remind the audience of who they
really were—they were Germans, and one of the ways to make that point was to indicate
the strangeness of the relative newcomers. One wonders what the few foreign-born Jews
in the audience made of it all.138
Perhaps this should not be surprising; after all, the Kulturbund was about
preserving a place for Jews in traditional western European high culture. It therefore
makes some sense that the choices made by the group would fall squarely within that
tradition. At the same time, though, we should not be surprised thatthe members of the
group were self-selected. That is to say that people most vested in a continuation of the
relationship between Jews and European culture would join this organization, and we
would probably not find people whose vision of German Jewry was grounded in Zionism.
But that some were there. Ephraim Carlebach and Samuel Hodes and Hans Abelsohn
were Zionists, but they were there. Taken in toto, the Kulturbund, and its choices and
leadership seem to represent the sensibilities of respectable, not to say elite, Jewish
Leipzig. And as conditions changed, so to did the sensibilities of that group.
Ibid., 21 June, 1935.
For the rest of 1935, there were few surprises in the programs of the Kulturbund:
a dance evening, a play by Bernard Shaw. Even in January, 1936, there was an evening
of humor, “Der Bunte Karren” [“The Colorful Cart”], which included satirical remarks
about Ostjuden, which the police observer insisted most of the audience did not
understand.139 But, by the time this program had been presented, things were changing.
The state had decided that the Kulturbund had to become the sole province of Zionists,
and anyone who did not comply was to be ousted.
As early as August, 1935, regional police officials had begun to ask about the
political orientation of the members of the Vorstand of the Kulturbund. In September of
that year, the Saxon interior minister ordered that no assimilationist could serve on the
Vorstand of a Kulturbund.140 Still, it took until October for the Leipzig police to report
back, saying that Abelsohn was a member of the Zionistische Vereinigung , but that
Goldschmidt was a member of the CV, as was Tanja Ury’s husband.141 Abelsohn was
brought in for interrogation the following month, and testified that Goldschmidt was
indeed a hardcore anti-Zionist, but seemingly the last one. So, the tide of opinion had
turned. It was hard enough putting together Jewish cultural programs without being
ideological about it, and he and Goldschmidt had cooperated.142
A few days later, Goldschmidt was brought in to explain himself. He admitted
that he was not a Zionist, but said that the Kulturbund did not act in a political way.
Pressed about the continued performance of German music at the Kulturbund’s programs,
he was obliged to say that this was merely because there were so few Jewish composers,
Ibid., 16 January, 1936.
Ibid., document of 8 January, 1936.
Ibid., 22 October, 1935.
Ibid., 13 November, 1935.
and because German art was global in its impact. One can easily imagine the pain it cost
this ardent integrationist, this German, to have to say these things. He closed his
interview by asking for help in circumventing a growing boycott of the Kulturbund’s
performances by venue owners.143
In January of the following year, Goldschmidt was notified that he would no
longer be allowed to serve on the Vorstand. He asked to be given time to find a
replacement, and this was granted. He was then able to convince the local police that,
although he was not a Zionist, he had ceased to work actively against them. Goldschmidt
also warned that appointing an outspoken Zionist to theVorstand might provoke some
members of the Bund. He had initiated this institution, it would suffer without him, and
he ought to stay to take care of it.
During his exchange with the police, the Zionistische Vereinigung sent a letter to
the police on his behalf, saying that although Goldschmidt was not a formal Zionist, he
worked toward the construction of Palestine. They did point out, though, that there were
no members (not even Abelsohn) of the Vereinigung on the Vorstand, and suggested a
new member.144 This satisfied the local police inspector, who had let him stay, with a
warning that the Bund would not be allowed to propagate assimilationism.145
This reprieve suggested that the integrationists had been marginalized. At the
same time, it indicated a slight willingness on the part of Zionists to turn the situation to
their advantage even as they closed ranks with their old foe, Goldschmidt. At any rate, it
was not enough to save the latter’s position for long. The Saxon police demanded his
Ibid., 22 November, 1935.
Ibid., 22 January, 1936.
Ibid., exchange of 21, 25 January, 1936.
resignation in February, and got it on the 11th of that month.146 The Bund was directed by
the police to elect a new Vorstand and report back. They did so, electing 4 members,
including the returning Abelsohn and Ury. The report to the police made clear that all
were members of Zionist organizations.147
Indeed, Abelsohn was a member of the Zionistische Vereinigung, and the
“Leipzig-Loge”, and the “Gesellschaft der Freunde”, Zionist social and fraternal groups.
Willy Hofstein, a businessman who was a new member, was a member of the ZV and the
lodge, and Nothmann, the head physician at the Jewish hospital, was a member of the
ZV. Tanja Ury was no Zionist at all, of course—she was in the Jüdische Frauenbund
[the Jewish Women’s Federation], and the Frauenverein (Women’s Club) “Ruth”, both
described as politically neutral—and her husband was a prominent member of the CV.
The local police wrote to the Saxon authorities, asking what to do with her.148
The office of the Präsident des Geheimen Staatspolizei Sachsen (the President of
the Saxon Secret State Police) continued to press the issue, writing the Leipzig police,
who then wrote the Kulturbund, demanding that Ury be replaced on the Vorstand.149 In
late March, the Kulturbund asserted that Ury had joined the Zionistische Frauengruppe
“Wizo” [Women’s International Zionist Organization, a group founded in Britain in 1920
to aid emigrants’ transition to life in Palestine], and was ex officio therefore a member of
the ZV. By May, the police had concluded that this was the case, and that she could
Ibid., 11 February, 1936.
Ibid., 24 February, 1936.
Ibid., 26 February, 1936.
Ibid., 14, 26 March, 1936.
Ibid., 30 March, 16 May, 1936.
What can we make of this incident? It seems clear that Tanja Ury was no more a
Zionist than Goldschmidt was. Joining the Wizo was nothing more than an attempt to
stay on the board of directors of a cultural organization that was important to her, and
which needed her, as a leader and as a performer. She was willing, or able, to do what
Goldschmidt had not, by convincing the authorities that she had changed her stripes. But,
it seems that the state must have known better. Local police in Leipzig, who were
familiar with all of the personalities and organizations involved, seemed to have engaged
in a willful ignorance as to Ury’s change of heart, and one is led to wonder whether they
would have done the same for Goldschmidt, had he been able to pretend.
It seems that the Nazi state believed, in this period, that Zionist Jews were more in
tune with the desires of their state than integrationists were. Therefore, the state and its
agents practiced intervention even into cultural institutions that seemed innocuous to
guarantee the predominance of the Zionist position in Jewish life. We can also conclude,
though, that they need not have bothered. The statements and positions of the figures
involved in the Goldschmidt dismissal make clear that the ardent integrationists were a
dying breed, even in a group so reflective of the traditional integrationist constituency as
the elite, German-born, Reform core of the Kulturbund. The tide had indeed turned by
1936, and no Jewish group in Leipzig could withstand it.
The other main observation to be made about the experiences of the Kulturbund is
about the perversely close interaction of victim and oppressor seen in the constant
observation and regulation of the group. The Kulturbund was watched very closely, and
the state, at several levels, was involved in every kind of decision, from the constitution
of the board of directors to the programming decisions made. After the assassination in
February 1936 of the head of the Foreign Section of the Swiss NSDAP, Wilhelm
Gustloff, by David Frankfurter, a Jew, all Kulturbund events were shut down151, and
afterward, all events had to approved by no less than the Geschäftsführer of the
Reichskulturkammer (Managing Director of the National Chamber of Culture, one of the
many pseudo-guilds established by the Nazis to control elements of German life), Hans
Hinkel.152 Every event of the Kulturbund after April, 1936 was accompanied by a note
from this fairly “Grosses Tier” (“big shot”).
This was a striking addition to the observational regime under which these Jews
of Leipzig had to operate. In addition to the regular observation by the local authorities,
the state Gestapo was watching, and the Reich authorities were also signing off on every
single performance of the Kulturbund. This ludicrous display of overkill was a sign of
how important the Nazis believed culture to be, and the actions of the overseers also
show how disposed they were toward Zionism, at least for the time being.
Youth Groups
Among the other signs of the increasing degree of imposed self-sufficiency
among the Jews of Leipzig was a proliferation of youth groups after 1933. There was a
long record of youth activity among Jews in the city—in 1929, there were enough
organized youth activities that the Gemeindeblatt was asking citizens “What are you
doing for the Jewish youth? Help build their house!” above a picture of a boy in a youth
group uniform and an appeal for donations to the “Verein ‘Jüdisches Jugendhaus’
Leipzig” (the “Jewish Youth House Club of Leipzig”), led by Gemeinderabbiner Dr.
Leipziger Tageszeitung, 6 February, 1936. The killing of Gustloff is an element of Günter Grass’ recent
novella Crabwalk.
StAL PP-V 4506. 4 March, 1936.
Ephraim Carlebach, Gustav Cohn, and Dr. Felix Goldmann.153 The Zionists had made
youth organization a priority for as long as they had been registered in Leipzig.154
But the picture changed after 1933, of course. As one youth leader said, the youth
movement carried the future of the Jews after the rise of Hitler, because the older
generation just could not deal with the scope of the changes since 1933.155 The range of
groups for young people after 1933 gives a sense of how important the community
thought such groups were. Young people could join groups for Zionist boys and girls, or
CV boys and girls. They could join athletic organizations, or Jewish boy and girl
Among Zionist groups alone, there was the “Hechaluz”, with an emphasis on
physical labor and education to prepare young people for Palestine; the “Misrachi”,
which pursued the same goals from a more religious standpoint; the “Bar Kochba”—with
over 700 members the largest of the Zionist groups—which sought to improve physical
well-being through sport; the “Jüdischer Pfadfinderbund” (“Jewish Pathfinders’
Federation”), which was a kind of Zionist scouting group; the “Brith Habonim”, which
was the same as Hechaluz for younger children, and the “Franz Rosenzweig”, which was
not officially Zionist, but would be soon.157 And this does not include the groups for the
Staatszionisten, an important splinter group.
Each youth group had its own uniforms, pennants, and songs. The central role of
such symbols was made clear in the issues of the ban of the wearing of uniforms and
Gemeindeblatt der Israelitischen Religionsgemeinde zu Leipzig, 27 September, 1929.
StAL PP-V 1339 Vereinsregister des Amtsgerichts Leipzig “Zionistische Vereinigung Leipzig”. 22
April, 1925.
StAL PP-V 4437. 19 January, 1936.
In Berlin, Uri Aloni rembered the youth movement as a compensation for the exclusion from the rest of
German society: “it straightened our backs.” Roseman, 83.
StAL PP-V 4441 Polizeipräsidium Leipzig files on “Zionistische Vereinigung Leipzig”. 26 October,
bearing of pennants in late 1934,158 and by the many requests for exceptions to made to
the rule.159 German youth groups had generally gloried in the wearing of uniforms and
the waving of banners. But now such display was only for the Aryan youth of the nation.
The turn to Zionism
Over time, the sentiments of people like Dr. Fritz [Fred] Grübel—a Gemeinde and
youth leader in Leipzig who encouraged young people to think about the fatherland, to
not assume that they were heading to Palestine160—were outweighed by a preponderance
of activity pointed exactly in the direction of Palestine. The very next month after
Grübel’s talk, the integrationist Rabbi Goldschmidt presided over a youth meeting for the
Gemeinde, during which the eventual move to Palestine was discussed as a foregone
conclusion.161 By the time big youth meetings were banned in 1937162, the Gemeinde
(and therefore the mass of respectable Jewish opinion in Leipzig) had joined the Zionists
in agreeing that there was no place for young Jewish Germans in Germany.
This was another sign of the tide having turned in favor of the Zionists by the
mid-1930s. The Zionistische Vereinigung, the largest Zionist organization in the city,
had grown in importance by 1934 to the point that 2,500 people showed up at its Herzl
celebration. There were youth in uniforms, and songs in Hebrew, and appeals for trees
for Israel. There were pamphlets from the association of independent Jewish artisans
Ibid., 30 November, 1934.
Eg., in January, 1935, the youth group of the CV asked for permission to go to the services for the
deceased Gemeinderabbiner Felix Goldmann with “Kluft und Wimpel” [uniforms and pennants] because he
was a member of the CV. Permission was granted, along with a strong warning not be seen on the street
with the stuff, or to even wear it under their coats, a move specifically proscribed by the order of the
previous November. StAL PP-V 5007, files on the Jüdischer Centralverein. 16 January, 1935.
PP-V 4437, 10 January, 1936.
Ibid., 5 February, 1936.
StAL PP-V 3937/9 Polizeipräsidium Leipzig files on Zionistische Vereinigung Leipzig. 15 May, 1937.
(“Remember the Jewish Artisan!”), and the ZV (“Herzl Lives!”, with a short biography).
Participants were told that “Zionism is the solution to the Jewish question”, a clear
response to the rhetoric of anti-Semitism.
But, at the same time, the speaker, Rabbi Joachim Prinz from Berlin, felt obliged
to assert in an essay distributed to the audience that Zionism was not just an issue for
poor Jews from the east. Zionism was not a humanitarian question, but a national and a
political one. 163 It seems that, even though Zionism was an important and growing force
in Leipzig in 1934, and even though the movement was acting in clear response to what
the German state had begun, there was still a great divide, and Zionists felt obliged to
point out that their movement had some relevance for the German-born, Reform Jews of
the community.
Despite Rabbi Prinz’s insistence to the contrary, Zionism was still in the process
of emerging from its past as a movement by and for orthodox and foreign-born Jews.
This relative marginality is underscored by the comments of a police observer at a youth
meeting in August of that year. The speaker, Asael Davidsohn, exhorted his listeners to
think of Jewry, to help define and build the Jewish nation. The observer pointed out that
the speaker, who left the next day for Israel, did not have a solid command of German.164
Zionism was a more religious movement than that of the integrationists. The ZV
planned a Simcha Torah celebration for October, 1934.165 It is difficult to imagine the
CV or any other integrationist organization doing so, and there is no evidence that they
ever did. In November of that year, the ZV sponsored a talk by a Frau Dr. Blau from
Hamburg, who insisted on placing the construction of a new “Jewish empire” within a
StAL PP-V 4441. 2 July 1934.
Ibid., 27 August, 1934.
Ibid., 28 September, 1934.
“sacred tradition”. Palestine would only work, she said, if Jews paid more attention to
religion: “It is religious duty to build Palestine on a religious basis.”166
There were still bitter divisions between Zionists and integrationists in 1934. Dr.
Franz Mayer from the national office of the ZV told his audience how he had become
disgusted with disunity among Jewry, and had “settled accounts with Liberal [Reform]
Jewry, and come to the conclusion that all Jews could only become strong again under
the leadership of the Zionists.”167 The link is very clear here, between integrationists and
Reform. Similarly, Martin Altertum, a jurist who was to become increasingly important
in the Gemeinde and in Leipzig Zionism, concluded that “a Zionist must be a 100%
But things were changing. As Jews’ exclusion from the mainstream of German
life grew more and more pronounced, the old enemies on the two sides of the Zionist
divide grew closer and closer. The ZV canceled its Simcha Torah celebration in 1934, to
mark the death of the Gemeinderabbiner and CV war-horse Goldmann, who, as Altertum
noted in his speech, was not a Zionist but gave his all for Jews. When the Zionist leader
Dr. Fließ left town, his party was attended by no less than the leader of the CV in
Leipzig, Kurt Sabatsky.169 Conrad Goldschmidt, integrationist head of the Kulturbund,
came to a meeting of the ZV, to advertise the Bund at intermission.170 Goldschmidt had
to go to the ZV meeting if he wanted to reach a sizable audience.
Jews felt increasingly unable to deny the Nazi definition of the national
community. More and more, they seem to have come to the conclusion that Germans had
Ibid., 15 November, 1934.
Ibid., 4 November, 1934.
Ibid., 24 October, 1934.
Ibid., 30 September, 1934.
Ibid., 13 February, 1935.
decided that their nation was an ethnically derived national community, and that they did
not fit in. Over time, the rhetoric of the Zionists in Leipzig changed, from religious
exhortations and references to Jews from the east, to arguments founded in the language
of 20th century nationalism. These arguments tended to be based on the overwhelming
evidence of the hostility of the German people toward their Jewish countrymen.
So, Rabbi Prinz came back to town and gave a speech on “The Jewish situation—
Today”. It was a moving litany of the changes in Jewish life in Germany after 1933. The
Germans wanted the Jews out, he said. The government had banned propaganda aimed at
convincing people to stay in the country, and many who felt that they were German had
been forced to realize, for the first time in their lives, that they were Jews. Jewish life
had become a ghetto—German culture no longer belonged to them. Beethoven had
become a grotesque reminder of their exclusion, his humane vision—the “other
Germany”—now reduced to yet another tool to remind Jews of their marginalized status
by denying his work to Jews. He did not think that the political situation would change—
he saw a Germany in ten years that would have very few Jews. To live, he said, one
needs food and water, but also neighbors. He did not understand the continuing division.
He did not understand how anyone could fail to be thankful that there was a Palestine.171
The evidence led some to conclude that the Nazis had it right, in some ways at
least. Dr. Leo Goldhaber, a ZV member in Leipzig, told a meeting of the Jüdischer
Pfadfinderbund that Jews needed to develop a national, or “völkisch” awareness. The
police reporter dryly observed: “as an example he held up Germany. Germany, which
had been, in contrast to other states, split as a nation, and by party, was now united.”
Ibid., 5 April, 1935.
Goldhaber even spoke of developing “national and social people”.172 If it is hard to
understand how a German Jew could talk that way, it also too much to expect that all
Jews would remain immune to the “logic” of what was happening all around them.
The State Zionists
One group of Jews in Leipzig who shared many of these same assumptions about
national communities was the State—or Revisionist—Zionists. It is worth pointing out
here that there were many different kinds of Zionists. The bulk of German Zionists
belonged to the mainstream Zionistische Vereinigung, and shared its moderate politics
and social democratic outlook. But the mainstream World Zionist Organization, led by
Chaim Weizmann, was seen by some as far too conciliatory, much too given to
compromise, whether with the British or with Palestinian Arabs. Dissatisfaction with the
perceived retreats of the movement had caused some Zionists, led by the fiery Russian
Vladimir Jabotinsky, to branch out. Jabotinsky, a former member of the Zionist
executive and the Wunderkind of Zionism173, believed that Zionism was not nearing the
end of political struggle, but was approaching the beginning of meaningful conflict, an
armed conflict resulting in a Jewish state in Palestine.
Jabotinsky argued for Jewish armed force in Palestine, and for the creation of a
self-governing Jewish commonwealth in the whole region, including in Transjordan. His
was a maximalist position.174 As Walter Laqueur says, “This position was revolutionary
inasmuch as it demanded the establishment of a Jewish state at a time when it was not
Ibid., 10 February, 1935.
Walter Laqueur, A History of Zionism, New York, 2003. 339.
Ibid., 347.
openly advocated by any other Zionist leader or movement.”175 This would eventually
become the position of the whole Zionist movement, but for the time being, the
“Revisionist” movement was a dramatic break from the mainstream Zionist vision of a
semi-autonomous homeland for the Jews, with or without a Jewish majority, a majority
that Jabotinsky claimed was essential. Revisionists also became more socially
conservative over time, replacing the socialism of the mainstream “Labor” Zionist
movement with a frank anti-socialism.176 Though Jabotinsky was embarrassed by the
tendencies of some members of the Revisionist movement—most dramatically when
Palestinian Jewish leaders asked him to become a “Duce”177—there were undoubtedly
some Revisionists who embraced the illiberalism and ethnic politics of the fascists, and
they were quite active in Leipzig, as we shall see.
In June, 1933 a group of splinter Zionists, having formed a local branch of the SZ,
asked permission from the Leipzig police to hold meetings. After the police checked
with their opposite numbers in Berlin about SZ activity there, permission was given to
the locals, led by a lawyer, Dr. Leo Goldwasser, to hold meetings, but only in private
homes.178 Goldwasser had practiced law in Leipzig since 1924. He did well for himself
in business and continued his activity in Zionist politics. He was elected to the first
Vorstand of the Zionistische Vereinigung in Leipzig in 1925, before joining the antiMarxist revisionist breakaways in 1927.179
Ibid., 348.
Ibid., 351.
Ibid., 362.
StAL PP-V 4498: Polizeipräsidium Files on Verband der Staatszionisten [later the Staatszionistischen
Organisation]. 17, 19 June, 16 October, 18 November, 1933.
StAL PP-V 4500, 31 August, 1938. PP-V 3937/9 Polizeipräsidium Leipzig files on Zionistische
Vereinigung Leipzig, 1936-1939, 22 April, 1925.
The State Zionists wrote back, protesting the ban on public meetings on
ideological grounds. In a long letter detailing the history of mainstream and State or
“Revisionist” Zionism, the Verband condemned the democratic and Marxist tendencies in
the ZV, and compared itself to the Nazis. It emphasized discipline within their
movement. It compared squabbles with the ZV to the conflicts within the Nazi party.
They quoted Hans Frank’s approval of Zionism. They described their vision of Zionism
as a new national development, a revival of a national community comparable with what
the Nazis had done. They compared their youth group, the “Herzlia” to the HJ. They
said they wanted a “totaler Staat”, a “total state”.
They assured the police that they would not present any opposition to the
NSDAP, any more than they would any national-minded movement, like the Fascists in
Italy, for instance. They joined the NSDAP in opposing assimilation. And they included
with their letter a manifesto written in language seemingly designed to direct Nazi
attention to their opponents in intra-Jewish politics, calling the mainstream Zionists
assimilationists and Marxists.180 These people were operating in an environment in
which the logic of exclusionary nationalism was becoming a shared presumption.
The SZ spent a fair amount of time trying to convince the Nazi authorities that
they shared the same set of basic goals. In March 1934, when permission was denied to
the SZ for a lecture to be held entitled “Judenstaat—Das Ziel. Staatszionismus—der
Weg” (“A Jewish state—the goal. State Zionism—the way”), Goldwasser wrote a long
letter to the police trying to convince them that the state and Party had nothing to fear
from the SZ, that they shared the same goals. The flaw in Goldwasser’s efforts, of
StAL PP-V 4498, 26 November, 1933.
course, was that that the state and party did not fear the SZ, any more than they feared
any other Jewish group. They merely loathed them, and sought to use them, for the time
being, as best they could.181
After being told, without explanation, that the term “Judenstaat” (“Jewish State)
was an affront to public order, Goldwasser offered the police a number of choices for a
speech a few months later by Georg Kareski, former Vorsitzender (Chair) of the Berlin
Gemeinde and president of the national SZ organization. The preferred choice was
“Judenstaat—die einzige Lösung der Judenfrage” (“A Jewish State—the Only Solution
to the Jewish Problem”). But, in case the term Judenstaat gave offense, they also offered
“Politischer oder Unpolitischer Zionismus” (“Political or Unpolitical Zionism”).182
When the talk had to be rescheduled and moved on technical grounds, Goldwasser
notified the police and said he wanted to do whatever he could to help comply with
regulations flowing from §1 of the Verordnung des Reichspräsidenten zum Schutze des
Deutschen Volkes (Order of the Reich President for the Defense of the German People) of
4 February, 1933.183
Goldwasser might have thought his efforts well worth the time he expended if he
could have read an internal police memo of two months later from the file entitled
“Judenbewegung” (“Jewish movement”). The memo was a summary of the intent and
direction of State Zionism. The document referred to Zionism generally as the “national
renewal movement of the Jewish people”, language directly comparable to the way the
Nazis talked about themselves. The SZ’s opposition to the ZV was based on democratic
and Marxist tendencies within the ZV, and the SZ’s struggle against Marxism and class
Nicosia, throughout.
StAL PP-V 4498, 30 April, 1934.
Ibid., 22 April, 1934.
conflict. It was everything Goldwasser might have wanted the state to say about his
This is no coincidence. In a striking display of the degree to which some Jewish
groups could succeed, at least for a time, in shaping the state’s ideas about them and their
opponents, much of the police document is a copy or a paraphrase of Goldwasser’s letter
from the previous November. The description of Zionism as “the national renewal
movement of the Jewish people” is a direct quote from Goldwasser’s letter. The hope
expressed in Goldwasser’s letter that Jews in Palestine will be able to have “a normal and
peaceful life in constant contact with the homeland soil and in healthy occupations as
farmers, artisans and tradesmen” is replicated verbatim in the police document with the
exception of the word “especially” before “tradesmen”.
The list of distinctive Revisionist positions Goldwasser provided for the police
was paraphrased through its first and second items, “the necessity of a united closed
world view of all Zionists dedicated to a Jewish state (Monismus)”, and “combat[ing]
Marxism and class conflict as heresy , incompatible with reaching national unity.”
Goldwasser asserted that “it is clear that the outspoken oppositional position of the State
Zionist Organization—fighting in the spirit of these Revisionist ideas, against liberaldemocratic party confusion and against Marxism—has led to violent intra-Zionist fights
and hostility”, and went on to compare this with the hostility raised by the Nazis’ unity
and renewal movement. The police report echoed these assertions until that comparison.
Goldwasser was getting most of what he wanted, and even if the police report did not
follow him to his explicit conclusion, the implicit conclusions were obvious.185
Ibid., 2 June, 1934.
Ibid., 26 November, 1933, 2 June, 1934.
The degree to which Goldwasser and his compatriots had been successful in
convincing the authorities of their ideological kinship can be seen in an extraordinary
order by Reinhard Heydrich, from 31 March, 1935. Marked “Confidential”, the order
gave specific permission, revocable at any time, for “Herzlia”, the SZ youth group, to
wear uniforms at their closed meetings. The reasons were explicitly laid out; the goals of
the State Zionists were consistent with state policy, and the use of uniforms might attract
more members, and eventually lead to the emigration of more Jews from Germany.186
Even more striking was the nature of those uniforms. Later, after the group had been
banned, inventories of seized uniforms described brown shirts and pants, with blue trim.
The police engaged in a protracted correspondence about the uniforms, asking that the
color be confirmed.187
Goldwasser was effectively presenting the case for SZ-Nazi cooperation, for the
time being. He understood, and perhaps shared, much of the Nazi world view in regards
to politics and nationality. Like the Nazis, he believed that Jews were a distinct people, a
nation. They ought to have a nation-state of their own, away from Europe. Up to that
point, the SZ, the ZV, and the NSDAP were on the same page, and so, for that matter,
was much of the western world. But Goldwasser went further: he used the same
language of “useful work”, an assumption that traditional Jewish trades were corrupting
ones, and that a return to the soil was in order. The mainstream Zionists prepared their
young people for work in the fields and shops in Palestine, but out of necessity, and they
mourned the loss of a world of Jewish doctors and professors.188
StAL PP-V 4451. Copy in note of 10 April, 1935 from Gestapa Sachsen to Leipzig police.
StAL PP-V 4500, 31 August, 1938.
StAL PP-V 4441, 11 December, 1934
Goldwasser and the SZ spoke the same political and cultural language as the
Nazis. An insistence on a total state, on the corrupting nature of democracy and
Marxism, and on the need to renew people along ethnic lines and through political
movements was common to both movements. Most disturbing, perhaps, was
Goldwasser’s tendency to describe mainstream Zionists in terms identical to the ones the
Nazis used for their own enemies. Goldwasser’s apparent willingness to direct the
hostility of the Nazi state toward his fellow Jews must be seen in context—the “Night of
the Long Knives” and the concentration camps were still months away—but it is
nonetheless difficult to excuse. Cold solace is found in the fact that the state’s relative
friendliness to State Zionism was short-lived.
Probably the worst example of the SZ attempting to direct the state’s attention to
their rivals happened in October, 1933. The police got an anonymous tip, saying that the
headquarters of the Jüdisches Handwerkersbund (Jewish Craftsmen’s League) in a
building shared with a Zionist group were being used by young former KPD members to
hold secret meetings. The police raided the building, and did find twelve young people,
along with some literature, which they confiscated. The most incriminating piece was a
pamphlet titled “The Jews Demand Hitler’s Murder.”
The youth protested that the pamphlet was in fact a Nazi anti-Semitic tract (it
was), and immediately pointed the finger at Alexander Landau, leader of the SZ youth
group, the Herzlia. Landau, the young dissidents alleged, had called the police in an
effort to secure the arrests of young Jews who did not share his philosophy, partly out of
ideology, partly out of viciousness. The police concluded from Landau’s whereabouts
that he probably did place the call. Landau was brought in for questioning and denied it,
claiming to be elsewhere. The police, describing Landau’s philosophy as “NationalZionist”, found that his alibi was feasible, and that someone else could have made the
call, but arrived at no final conclusions on the matter.189
The Leipzig followers of Goldwasser also heard of an enemy in Palestine. In
contrast to the mainstream Zionists who were preaching some sort of symbiosis with the
Arabs who were living in the region, Goldwasser told an audience of five people in
October 1934 that “it is not permissible that the Arabs should have an influence on the
Jews in Palestine. A people who stand high in culture, like the Jews, cannot allow that,
since the Arabs are about 1,000 years behind in culture.190
A more conciliatory tone was struck in a larger meeting (attended by about 200
people) the very next month, Goldwasser asserted at this point that the Arabs were
kindred people to the Jews, ought not fight with them, and would benefit from close
proximity to the Jews. The big villain, as at so many Zionist meetings, was the British
empire. Goldwasser told his listeners to emulate the German SPD in 1919—just declare
a state in Israel, hold on and fight. (Despite this provocative ode to the old enemies of the
new German regime, the reporting police office made no move to shut down the
meeting.) Ernst Hamburger, a guest speaker from Berlin, brought up another German
example. He pointed to case of the German-speaking peoples in Czechoslovakia and the
Baltics. They had been out-procreated, and had ultimately lost the demographic battle,
and with it their homes. This could not happen in Palestine.191 If this sounds like a logic
shared by Nazi theorists of racial conflict, it is. But, it ought to be pointed out, this logic
was shared by many Europeans at this time, including Poles, Czechs, Hungarians, and
StAL PP-V 4451, 31 October, 3 November, 1933.
StAL PP-V 4498, 9 October, 1934.
Ibid., 12 November, 1934.
German-speakers all over eastern and central Europe. The Zionists, and the state Zionists
in particular, operated in an environment in which this was the rhetorical and logical
A few months later Richard Pelz, leader of propaganda for the Leipzig branch of
the SZ, brought the position of Arabs within a Jewish state into question again when he
spoke to 120 people on “Palästina oder Erez Israel” (“Palestine or the State of Israel”).
Pelz asserted that only fanatics could accomplish a Jewish state. He held out Josef
Trumpeldor as a model. He criticized the mainstream Zionists for talking of community
with Arabs. He asserted that the SZ wanted a Jewish national state, a state without
Arabs.192 Goldwasser struck a more conciliatory tone the following November, when he
asserted that the goals of SZ were “liberty, equality and fraternity”, and said that an
Israeli economy would need Arab workers. There was a limit to brotherhood, of course.
Goldwasser warned against intermarriage.193
The high point of attendance at a state Zionist meeting in Leipzig was in
February, 1935, when eight hundred people came to a speech by Georg Kareski, with five
hundred turned away due to a lack of space. Kareski, who had an ability to turn a phrase,
said that “the Jewish question burns harder all over the world. Everywhere, the Jews
were marked as homeless and without rights. Every people has a fatherland, and Israel is
theirs.” Perhaps the highlight of the evening was a short play, “Makkabäer von Heute”
(“Maccabees of Today”), about three young men going to Israel without permits. One is
shot, the others put on trial, and in the dock they reject the charges of illegal
immigration—they disputed the notion that their actions were illegal. They had
Ibid., 18 March, 1935.
Ibid., 12 November, 1935.
“homeland rights” here. At this point, the police observer noted, “the play was
interrupted for a long time by stormy applause.” The characters asserted that they would
keep coming, in mass numbers, until they filled the jails to bursting.194 Again, the
language is nationalist, the villain English.
The language of nationalism continued, sometimes spoken in forms that could
have been prepared by NSDAP propagandists. In August, 1935, Kareski—whose
frequent presence indicates the importance of Leipzig as a center for SZ operations195—
spoke on “The Liquidation of German Jewry”. Flanked on each side by uniformed
Herzlia members, Kareski said that assimilation was dead. The current German
government was serious about its plans, and a way had to be found to remove Jews from
the German economy. The need for emigration was not new, only more obvious. The
idea that Jews could ever really settle in the diaspora was a charade. The Jews needed
not only a homeland, but a leader, who, along with armed Jewish legions in Palestine,
would lead them to freedom.196
But by this time, as mainstream Zionists were growing in number, state Zionism’s
fortunes were beginning to flag. Fewer people were coming to the meetings197, and
organizers were continuing to have a hard time convincing Jewish landlords to rent halls
for their meetings. The local state Zionists went back to their imagined ally, the Nazi
state, for help. In a notice to the police for an upcoming lecture entitled “Volksbewusster
und assimilatorischer Zionismus” (again, note the use of a label the Nazis would also
Ibid., 25 February, 1935.
If anything, Leipzig’s importance as a center of State Zionism peaked during the break with Berlin and
Kareski, but declined soon after as Goldwasser’s maximalism—even compared to other Revisionists—
seemed to wear thin with his audiences, as evinced by declining attendance at meetings.
StAL PP-V 4498, 2 August, 1935.
Organizers described the lack of adult participation in one rally in September, 1935, as “Especially
displeasing”. Only 15 people, all of them young, had come. Ibid., 10 September, 1935.
have used. “Volksbewusster” can be translated as “racially conscious”, and is drawn as a
clear contrast to the “assimilationist” Zionism of the mainstream ZV. Even if the racial
element is removed from the translation, it is still a sign of a common language of
nationalism), Goldwasser asked the police for help in finding a new hall, since, after all,
the groups and the state shared the same goals.198
In October of that year, an extraordinary document made its way into the police
headquarters, making clear the desire of the State Zionists to curry the favor of the state .
A petition from the State Zionists to the national government, in six articles, made it clear
that this group saw its Nazi tormentor as a natural ally. Article one demanded a “total
solution to the Jewish question”. The State Zionists, under their national umbrella, the
NZO, said they had the answer. They claimed to be the strongest Jewish organization in
the world, with 730,000 members, from orthodox and reform camps. Article two,
perhaps the most shocking, recognized the right of the German people not to associate
with undesired foreigners. The Jews of Germany, the SZ said, were guests in that
country, and therefore in no position to resist the wishes of the German people. Article
three called for the cooperation of Jews with the German government in facilitating
emigration. Article four laid out what was necessary for that cooperation, including a
government office for emigration to Palestine. The goal was 20,000 Jews a year leaving
the country and the eventual emigration of everyone under 45 years of age. To do this,
the German government would have to exercise its influence with the British government
to encourage open Jewish emigration to Palestine.
Article five argued that with an end to the conflict between Germans and Jews,
the international boycott imposed on Germany due to measures taken against Jews would
Ibid., 3 September, 1935.
end. The SZ pointed out that they had already been working to end the boycott on behalf
of Germany. The final article added that, if Germany did all of the things asked for in the
petition, a normalization of the relations between Jews and Germans would develop. If
the Nazis ended their defamation of the Jews, and sought to aid the movement of the
Jews to Palestine, they would become associated with the aspirations of Jews, and a new
warm relationship would develop between them.199
This would perhaps be humorous if it were not so sad. The state Zionists badly
misunderstood the nature of Nazi anti- Semitism, reading only a reflection of their own
nationalism. To be sure, there were real similarities between the programs of the two
groups, based on ethnically-defined national group identity, and there can be no doubt
that the SZ took some inspiration from the dynamism and language of fascism. But the
SZ failed to identify the murderous intent at the heart of Nazism. (It should be said that
this was in stark contrast to the realism of the founder of Revisionism, Vladimir
Jabotinsky, who told a group of friends not long before Hitler came to power that he
expected them to carry out their campaign promises only on the Jewish question.)200 We
should not expect them to have been prophets—very few people knew that a system of
industrialized death was in the offing—but the desires of the SZ in Leipzig to achieve
success in their own milieu of Jewish politics, at the expense of their rivals, led them to a
sort of willful blindness about what was going on.
This could only last so long, of course. As Nazi policy grew more and more
hateful toward Jews, it became harder for the SZ to build on their alleged partnership
with the state. Membership in the Herzlia dropped, from forty-one in the fall of 1935 to
Ibid., 29 October, 1935.
Laqueur, 352.
fifteen in the spring of 1936.201 The exclusion of the SZ from respectable Jewish life
continued. In April, 1936, they were told by the Gemeinde rabbi that they had politicized
a worship service and were not welcome to meet in any Gemeinde hall.202
A place for a meeting was finally found in May, but that meeting—attended by
only twelve people—was the scene of a kind of implosion. Goldwasser took the
opportunity to attack the “lukewarm” leader of the group in Berlin, Kareski, as
insufficiently revolutionary. (In fact, Goldwasser and the Leipzig SZ had broken with
Kareski and the national “New Zionist Organization” over the boycott of German goods
and overall opposition to the Nazi regime—Goldwasser took the lead in cozying up to the
state.203) Alexander Landau, leader of the Herzliayouth group , said “in a joking tone”
that “if only the Gestapo weren’t here, he’d send the whole group in Berlin to hell.” He
said that without the support of the state, the struggle was useless. The police observer
thought that Landau’s speech was intended “partly to raise fighting spirits, and partly to
examine the collapse of the State Zionist movement.” His overall impression was of a
movement in decline, one whose members did not believe in its goals.204
The State Zionists’ activity in Leipzig petered out over time. They continued to
hold meetings and youth activities until their dissolution in August, 1938. Fewer and
fewer people came, and the support of the state became less and less enthusiastic. When
Polish citizens were targeted, as they were in all Jewish groups, the SZ was not
StAL PP-V 4451, 6 April, 1936.
StAL PP-V 4498, 29 April, 1936.
StA: PP-V 4500, 31 August, 1938.
Ibid., 5 May, 1936.
exempted, despite Goldwasser’s explicit claim to special treatment because of the work
the SZ was doing in encouraging emigration.205
In August of 1938, the headquarters of the Leipzig SZ were raided, and the homes
of the leaders searched. Goldwasser and the other functionaries—including 24-year-old
Margot Petzold and teenager Wilhelm Silberlust—were put under house arrest and
questioned as espionage suspects. The state had decided that this group that wanted so
badly to cooperate with them was “Staatsfeindlich” (“hostile to the state”). Their plans
for military action in Palestine qualified them as a paramilitary group, and their ties to the
NZO, long since severed, qualified them as a “boycott group”, since, the police said,
there was reason to believe those ties would be renewed in the future. Their official
stamps were confiscated, the property at headquarters was taken, and their landlady was
left asking for some of her furniture back.206 Goldwasser left for Palestine the next
The story of the state Zionists is a sad one, and in some ways grotesque. To
encounter young German Jews aping the language and costumes of Nazis is not what one
expects to find. There is more to it than shock value. The State Zionists represented
something important. They stood for the degree of commonality which bound
nationalists of many stripes in the 1930s in Europe. There was an increasing consensus
that national lines drawn up in exclusionary ways—a repudiation of liberal nationalism,
and therefore of a multi-ethnic community, and therefore of Jewish assimilation—
represented the wave of the future. George Mosse’s typically eloquent observation that
StAL 4499, 11 April, 1938.
StAL PP-V 4500, 28 August, 1938.
StAL PP-V 4451, handwritten note in margin of SD memo dated 4 October, 1938.
this vision of community did not solve the problems of modernity so much as compound
them is of little comfort.208
There is, of course, a difference between Zionists and Nazis. The vast majority of
German Zionists pursued their agenda within the parameters of traditional liberal politics.
As the early Nazi period passed, mainstream Zionism became stronger and stronger, as
the evidence all around them—namely the increasingly cruel rejection they experienced
at the hands of the new German state—confirmed everything they had believed about the
need for a Jewish home. Many of these assumptions were shared by all nationalists,
including National Socialists. But, as mainstream Zionists swept their assimilationist
rivals away, they also retained important parts of the old liberal consensus they shared
with their those rivals—democratic politics, and debate based on reason, within an open
society. This is theZionism they wanted to take to Israel, and they did.
But, there was another Zionism, one that shared more of the radical sensibilities
of racist, fascist nationalism. The State Zionists repudiated not just the old liberal ideals
of national identity, but the bulk of liberalism as a social philosophy. They identified
fascist movements as kindred spirits, and operated with many of the same techniques.
So, we see mass meetings in uniform, an insistence on the authority of leadership and on
the importance of the state, a willingness to subject rivals to violence, and explicitly racist
rhetoric. There are two tragedies in this story: first, that these German Jews identified
Nazis as people who shared much of their basic political world-view, and tried to play by
the Nazis’ rules. And, second, that they were so very mistaken about the desire of the
Nazis to cooperate with them.
Mosse, 59.
Chapter 3: “Regarded by the German Government as Undesirable”:
exclusion, deportation and murder, 1938-1945
Although the period of early Nazism resulted in the increasing exclusion of Jews
from public life in Leipzig, it did not generally entail consistent physical violence against
them. That changed dramatically, in Leipzig as it did all over the country, in November,
1938. Kristallnacht was the beginning of the end for the Jews of Leipzig, initiating a
period that would not cease until virtually every member of that community was either
dead or in exile. The certainly was some continuity in Jewish life in the city from 1933
through Kristallnacht: a dismaying degree of popular anti- Semitism, equaling and
sometimes even surpassing the anti-Jewish fervor of the party and state; the
overwhelming importance of the religious community, increasingly isolated as the only
meaningful institution left to Jews in Leipzig, and the continuing importance of Zionism,
now charged with saving as many Jewish lives as possible.
By the end of the Nazi reign of terror, and the end of the war, many of these themes
seemed increasingly distant from the overpowering central fact of murderers hauling off
more and more Leipzigers to their destruction. That one fact overshadows everything
else; this is the time when the Jewish community of Leipzig dies, and it seems hard to
imagine how it could ever live again. But it did, and the mass murder of the 1940s,
initiated in the Kristallnacht, is in some ways the first act of that revival. Those few who
survived went on to form a new community, and the same themes of Jewish life in the
city—tensions between Jews within the community, the importance of Zionism as a real
and rhetorical fact of political life, antipathy toward Jews by their fellow Leipzigers—
continued on surprisingly unchanged. The one thing that had changed, of course, was the
fact that the vast majority of Jews had left Leipzig in this period. And they did not come
Kristallnacht in Leipzig
The turning point in Leipzig, as in all other German cities, was the night of the ninth
of November, 1938. Jews in the city had been exposed to brutal exclusion from public
life, and had been subject to a policy of strongly encouraged emigration, not least through
the relative favor shown to Zionist organizations by the state, as we saw in the last
chapter. From November of 1938, though, that policy was shifted toward one of
deportations and murder. This was like any other German city.
Leipzig’s experience in the Kristallnacht was marked by two major characteristics.
First, the night of broken glass got a sort of head-start in Leipzig. The deportations of
Jews actually began earlier than November, 1938, but not for German citizens. As we
have seen, one of the outstanding characteristics of the Jewish community in Leipzig was
its high proportion of foreign-born Jews, most of them Polish. Along with Berlin,
Leipzig was a center of so-called “Ostjuden”, and therefore the Jewish population of
Leipzig was subject to an earlier process of exclusion from their neighborhoods and
livelihoods, of arrest and deportations. Second, a disconcerting—though hardly unique—
amount of popular anti-Semitic violence accompanied the pogrom in Leipzig, as can be
seen in the examples of those Jewish Leipzigers who found themselves the subject of
mob attacks in the hours after the assaults on the synagogues.
Leipzig was, after Berlin, the center of foreign-born Jews in Germany. In 1933, there
were 11,564 members of the Gemeinde; it is very difficult to say how many other Jews
were in town who did not choose membership in the religious community, but they were
certainly a distinct minority. Of the 11, 564, only 3,847 were German citizens. 5,624
were Polish, and another 1,502 were from “the east”.209 This roughly 30/70 division
between Germans and foreigners was roughly the reverse of the national ratio.210 As we
have seen, this makeup had had a profound impact on the nature of intra-Jewish relations
in Leipzig. Now, as was about to become clear, it would define Kristallnacht in Leipzig.
As early as April of 1938, the German government had begun to demand that foreignborn Jews be excluded from their positions within the Gemeinde, and therefore from their
jobs. Of the 149 total functionaries of the Gemeinde, including everyone from the
chairman to the rabbis to the gardeners at the cemetery, 51 were foreign-born, a number
not close to their overall proportion in the Gemeinde, but an improvement, considering
their historically marginalized position in the community (see chapter 1).
One of the members of the Vorstand, Dr. David Kuritzkes, was “staatlos”
(“stateless”). Of the eighteen members of the Gemeinde’s “Ausschuss” (a kind of
representative committee, subordinate to the Vorstand), three were Poles. One of the
religious teachers, Dr. Jacob Cohn, was from Austria. Eight deputies in the assembly
were foreign born. Both of the overseers of kosher meat were from the east: Jacob
Rosenzweig was Czech, and Moses Tykoschinski was Polish. All four of the gardeners
were foreign-born. It would have been very hard for the Gemeinde to function if the
Steffen Held, “Der Novemberpogrom in Leipzig und die Massenverhaftung Leipziger Juden 1938/39” in
Manfred Unger, ed., Judaica Lipsiensia: zur Geschichte der Juden in Leipzig, herausgeben von der
Ephraim-Carlebach-Stiftung. Leipzig, 1994: Edition Leipzig, 195.
Fred Grubel and Frank Mecklenburg “Leipzig: Profile of a Jewish Community during the first years of
Nazi Germany”, Leo Baeck Institute Yearbook, XLII 1997, 167.
government had decided to expel foreign-born Jews from their employ.211 That is exactly
what happened.
On April 1, 1938, the Gemeinde was told to get rid of all of the non-Germans in their
organization. The gardeners were immediately fired, as were those members of the
leadership who were not German.212 Over the next few days, and stretching on for the
next several months, the Gemeinde asked for permission to hold onto various employees
for particular reasons. The discussions with the Gestapo offer a record of a perverse
negotiation. In the next week, the Gemeinde asked for special permission for foreignborn functionaries at private synagogues (that is to say, those that were directly supported
and supervised by the Gemeinde), for irreplaceable religious functionaries, for workers at
the Jewish rest home, for Kindergarten teachers, since most young Jews had emigrated.
All these requests were denied by a Gestapo officer who noted that this all indicated to
him the need for tighter control of the Jews on the part of the state.213 The tone grew
more threatening: Gestapo assessor Schindhelm told the Gemeinde that he expected
action by the 10th of May, and that if he did not get it, measures would be taken.214
It went on: Hebrew teachers and messengers and cemetery workers. Some agreed to
keep working for no pay, like the former cemetery worker Rudi Goldberg, who was
needed to help in winter charity work.215 A few got permission from the Gestapo to
continue working, like Margot Kahane, a social worker who was needed to deal with
StAL PP-V 4438, Polizeipräsidium Leipzig: Geheime Staatspolizei, Staatspolizei Leipzig: Israelitische
ReligionsGemeinde, 1938-1940. Undated, but supplement—obviously in the next few days—dated 15
April, 1938.
Ibid., note of 8 April, 1938.
Ibid., 6 April, 1938.
Ibid., 12 April, 1938.
Ibid., 6 September, 1938.
Jews from the east.216 Sometimes individuals went directly to the Gestapo to ask
permission to stay, like Simon Rimalower, who was born in Leipzig and did occasional
work for the Gemeinde as a messenger. He had served on all fronts in the First World
War, but his German citizenship had been revoked in 1933 because his parents had been
born in Poland.217 It is not clear from the records what happened to his request, but given
the overall tendencies of the Gestapo, it is not likely it was granted.
At times, the cruelty of the Gestapo was pronounced, as in the case of their rejection
of a request from the Gemeinde to hire a Polish citizen, Isaak Meier Prinz, to lead the
prayers at the Orthodox Passover service.218 Perhaps the cruelest aspect of the whole
affair was that the Gemeinde had to do the firing throughout. Most of the notices were
signed by Dr. Fritz Grunsfeld, who by now had taken over as business manager of the
Gemeinde, and who would play such a large role in its life after the war.
Of course, this process of exclusion from employment—even within the Jewish
community—would not justify describing treatment of foreign-citizenship Jews as a
“rolling start” to Kristallnacht by itself. Not even the arrest and transport to
Sachsenhausen camp of 45 Jewish Leipzigers in June of 1938 would justify such a
description—they were arrested on grounds ranging from KPD membership to continuing
activity in forbidden professions, and were released soon after, largely due to negative
coverage in the émigré press.219 This was bad, but not bad enough to justify the
formulation used above.
Ibid., 23 February, 1939.
Ibid., 28 April, 1938.
Ibid., 30 March, 1939.
Held, “Der Novemberpogrom”, 195.
Matters deteriorated in Leipzig in October of 1938. On the sixth of that month, the
Polish government established the thirtieth as the last date to renew passports. Heinrich
Himmler gave an order on the twenty-seventh to begin the deportation of Polish Jews.
The next day, at five in the morning, Polish Jews in Leipzig were rousted from their beds
and, allowed only to take a few belongings, were hustled off to the gymnasium at the
Jewish high school. By nine, trains were headed for the Polish border.
Rabbi Shlomo Wahrman recalls his own family’s experience the day the Polish
deportations took place. His parents were from Galicia and had lost their Polish
citizenship and were therefore considered stateless. This was to be a perilous condition
later, but at this point left them out of the dragnet for Polish citizens. Wahrman explains
that a rumor had made the rounds of the Jewish community that the nearby city of Halle
had been the scene of a deportation of Polish citizens, in time for many in Leipzig to
reach the safety of the residence of the Polish consul.
The consul, Chiczewski, had rented a beautiful villa from the Ury family, prominent
Jewish department store owners and cultural patrons. Whether because of this fact, or
because of his own ideals, he distinguished himself during the crisis by his humane
behavior toward the Jews of Leipzig. Wahrman remembers expecting to see two or three
hundred people at the villa, but in fact saw something closer to 1,500, a substantial
portion of the total Jewish population of the city. They were all there to get special
dispensation from the consul, and they all did, receiving passports, allowing them some
hope of better treatment then “staatlos” people..
There was very little space on the grounds of the villa by the time the Wahrmans
arrived, carrying food for the people there. It was the Sabbath, but Wahrman’s mother,
assured by her rabbi that she was within her rights, had spent the day baking bread to
bring to the villa. The food shortage was severe. Although Chiczewski had done as
much as he could to bring in food, there was not enough for the huge crowd, and many
unaffected Jews were doing the same thing the Wahrmans were doing.
Wahrman describes the two hours he spent at the consul’s residence as a horror story,
with terrified Leipzigers wondering what was going to happen to them. But by late that
evening the crisis had passed, and the German and Polish governments had worked out a
deal to allow remaining Polish citizens to return to their German homes, with an eye to a
later registration.220 Anywhere between 1,563 and 3,500 people were deported
(Wahrman’s number is higher—“approximately 5,000”).221 Those who made it to the
Polish consul’s office in time to get renewed passports were allowed to stay in Leipzig
for the time being, as were 116 who were turned away at the Polish border. The Police
President in Leipzig, Friedrich Stollberg, described the action as “successfully completed
and going off without a hitch.” Interestingly, the Neue Leipziger Zeitung only reported
that “a few thousand Polish citizens, who were regarded by the German government as
undesirable, were evacuated to the Polish border.” No mention was made of Jews,
though they were much the most affected group.222
So, we see that a full year before the pogrom began for Jews as a whole, the majority
of Jews in Leipzig were already subject to much of the worst of what would befall all
German Jews after November, 1938. They lost their jobs, they were limited in their role
in public life, even within the Gemeinde, and in October of 1938, they were rounded up
Shlomo Wahrman, Lest we forget: Growing up in Nazi Leipzig, 1933-1939, Brooklyn: Mesorah
Publications, 1991. 84-90. Of course, Polish citizens had already begun to be deported, but, as seen in the
decision to let these people return to their homes, it was seen as a preferable condition to being without
Ibid., 90.
Held, “Der Novemberpogrom in Leipzig”, 195-197.
and put on trains headed east. And they were subject to this treatment not just because
they were Jews, but because they were foreign-born Jews. Because there were more
foreign-born Jews in Leipzig than in most other cities in Germany, we can say that some
of the conditions sparked by Kristallnacht had already begun to affect many Leipzig Jews
before Kristallnacht happened. A great many of them did not return, which was the
beginning of the end of the Leipzig Jewish community. Perhaps ironically, it was this
act, the expulsion of Polish Jews from Germany, that sparked Herschel Grynszpan—the
son of two Polish Jews expelled from Germany—to go to the German embassy and
ultimately to kill Ernst vom Rath, an act which would provide the pretext for the next
stage, Kristallnacht.
And then, just after midnight on the 9th of November, party Kreisleiter Ernst
Wettengel called the area Gruppenleiter into his office, told them to round up the SA and
party stalwarts, and begin carrying out the orders from the national party to instigate a
pogrom. The Gruppenleiter were told to have their men leave their uniforms at home, in
order to make the demonstrations appear spontaneous.223 The main Gemeinde synagogue
in the Gottschedstrasse was attacked first. At 3:51 in the morning the fire department
answered a call there, only to find the building engulfed in flames. The synagogue was
too far gone; it remained only for them to prevent the fire from spreading to other
buildings, which they were able to do. The fire department listed the cause of the fire as
In quick order, Bamberger and Hertz’s department store, the Höhere Israelitische
Schule, Ez-Chaim synagogue, Ury’s department store and the chapel at the new Jewish
Ibid., 198.
Wahrman, 94-95.
cemetery were burned. In every one of these cases, the fire department reacted the same
way, doing nothing to stop the fire, and only acting to prevent the fire from spreading or
endangering non-Jewish homes and businesses. In fact, their actions reflected their
orders, and those of the police, who were also given an order to do nothing.225
The authorities did prevent a synagogue from burning at the Keilstrasse. There,
police had arrived early, to search and close down the offices of the Zionistische
Vereinigung, on the third floor. They seized business equipment upstairs, and began to
confiscate religious artifacts downstairs, when a mob began to form in the street,
according to the Gestapo report. Because of the presence of gentile renters on the fourth
floor of the synagogue, the mob was prevented from burning the building, but did
succeed in looting both the synagogue and the ZV offices, before police could stop them.
Finally, the police were able to secure the building, seizing books, files, clocks and four
typewriters before locking the door and taking the key.226 It is only because of the
presence of the gentile neighbors upstairs that the Keilstrasse synagogue survived as the
sole remaining synagogue in Leipzig after the war, and today.
Sometimes firefighters made the decision to halt fires within Jewish-owned
properties, as in the limitation of the fires at Ury’s department store and the Höhere
Israelitische Schule.227 But the more common pattern was seen all over the town:
firefighters were assiduous about halting the fire before it got to gentile property.
Shlomo Wahrman reported seeing “what amounted to a straight vertical line separating
Bamberger and Hertz [department store, on the Augustusplatz downtown] from its
Held, “Der Novemberpogrom”, 198.
StAL PP-V 3937/9 Polizeipräsidium Leipzig files on Zionistische Vereinigung Leipzig, 1936-1939, 14
November, 1938
Wahrman, 99.
neighboring houses. The destruction ended exactly at the very edge of the structure. It
was truly an amazing performance of firefighting.”228
The pattern of official involvement in the activities of Kristallnacht can be seen in the
case of the criminal police at the synagogue on Farberstrasse. A policeman sent in the
day after the pogrom reported having confiscated files and scrolls, and silver shields from
the Torah, and some bells and coins.229 Rabbi Rogosnitzky of the synagogue, who was
trying to retrieve some of the holy objects, was arrested and subjected to a spontaneous
beard-trimming. On the corner of Farberstrasse and Gustav Adolf Strasse, much of his
beard was cut off, as Jewish neighbors were reduced to watching from behind their
window shades.230
The toll for the night was staggering. In a city of roughly half a million people, 193
businesses were destroyed, along with thirty-four private homes, three synagogues, four
smaller temples, the cemetery chapel, an old-age home (the Ariowitsch home, only open
since 1931 and a showplace, with three separate kitchens for meat, dairy and Pesach231),
and a school.232
Early on the morning of the tenth, “Aufgebrachte Volksgenossen” (“angry racial
comrades”)233 went to an Nazi party Ortsgruppe meeting, and pursuant to the murder of
vom Rath in Paris and the ensuing pogrom, divided themselves into troops, and headed to
the neighborhood of Neu-Gohlis, where many Jews lived. Described in later court
Ibid., 96-97.
StAL PP-V 4406—Geheime Staatspolizei File on Verein Ahavas-Thora (Talmud Thora), 10 November,
Wahrman, 100-101.
Ibid., 48-49.
Held, “Der Novemberpogrom”, 200.
Ibid., 199-200.
documents as mostly party members and true believers, they were out to “throw Jewish
families out of their houses and take them into custody.”234
When they got to the neighborhood, they split into smaller groups, and marched
through the various streets, banging on the doors of Jewish residents, and shouting
“Juden heraus!” (“Get out here, Jews!”) and “Raus ihr Judenschwein!” (“out, you Jewish
pigs!”). If the Jews did not come out of their homes of their own will, their doors were
broken down. The Jews, who were still mostly in bed at this time, were forced to dress
quickly, and ordered into the street. If orders were not followed quickly enough,
individuals were “mishandled”, and dragged into the street.
From there they were herded into a laundry-drying area, and then into the gym at a
nearby catholic school. Some 90 people were collected in the gym. After a few hours,
most were freed, and returned home, but a few men were immediately transported to a
concentration camp. More were arrested later the same day, or in the following days by
the SS, and were taken to a concentration camp. Several of those died of mistreatment.235
At the same time, in the Northwest part of the city, citizens were subjected to
mistreatment by a mob thatmarched some of them down the street to the area by the
Zoological Garden, and threw them into the creek there.236
A full-blown Aktion against the Jews of Leipzig followed. Beginning at 7 a.m. on the
tenth of November, led by Regierungsrat and SS-Sturmbannführer Hans Gerhard
Schindhelm, SS, SD, Kripo police, and party members began rounding up Jews. Some
Jews reported to the police themselves. 553 names were entered in the police records for
StAL Landesgericht Leipzig 7863, 10 May, 1947.
Held, “Der Novemberpogrom, 199-200.
the day’s work.237 Working from a list of Jewish organizations, the authorities hunted
down doctors, lawyers, members of the Vorstand of the Gemeinde and leaders of other
Jewish groups.
While members of all social classes were targeted, the largest group (33%) gave their
profession as “Kaufmann”. Religious Jews—members of the Gemeinde—were arrested,
as were non-observing ones. The wealthy were arrested, like Kurt Kroch, an attorney and
scion of the Kroch dynasty, who had built the city’s first skyscraper. Even some nonJews were taken in, like Ilse Rothschild, a Christian wife who protested too vigorously at
the treatment of her husband. The youngest was sixteen years old; the oldest was
seventy-eight. These citizens were hauled off to the Volksschule on Hallischenstrasse.
Most of the men were sent to prisons or to labor camps, and then to concentration
camps. By the next day, 151 Leipzigers were sent to Buchenwald. They were attacked
by a mob at the main train station, and had to be sent to the camp via special train. On
the 12th of November, another transport was sent with 119 victims. A third train was sent
on the 6th of December. The first group returned in two weeks’ time; by February, 1939,
everyone had been released from this roundup, except for eight who were killed in
Buchenwald, along 208 German Jews from other locales murdered in the camps in this
The institutions of Leipzig Jews were devastated. If the events of the period between
1933-1938 had served to point out how illusory were the differences between foreignborn and German-born Jews or between Zionists and anti-Zionists, Kristallnacht made it
clear that whatever relevance those divisions once had was going to be washed away in a
Held, “Der Novemberpogrom”, 202-203.
Held, “Der Novemberpogrom”, 203-204.
wave of government and popular hatred against the Jews. No matter the background, no
matter how cherished was the Germanness, it was taken away in the clearest possible
Kurt Sabatzky, the indefatigable Syndikus of the CV in Leipzig was out of town when
the “Special Action” happened, but communication between the Leipzig and Dresden
police led to his arrest in the Saxon capitol. His office was raided in his absence, and
sealed, and the key sent to police headquarters. The office remained closed until
December, when it was reopened, but only for housekeeping—paying bills, and so forth.
In January, 1939, Sabatzky wrote to the Gemeinde, informing them of the impending
dissolution of the Verein : “due to official pronouncements the pursuit of the purposes
and goals of the Verein must cease”. He used the forced middle name “Israel” for the
first time in this letter, and his signature was shaky. The signature seemed that of a
broken man when he wrote the Gemeinde in April that the CV in Leipzig was officially
The offices of the Reichsbund jüdischer Frontsoldaten (the National Alliance of
Jewish Front Soldiers)were sealed on the 24 th of November. In December, its leadership
had to agree to limit their actions to necessary business, and the office was reopened.
They were obliged to begin sending the Gestapo monthly reports, the highlight of which
in most periods was paying the electric bill. In August, 1939, the Reichsbund was
absorbed in the new ReichsVereinigung, part of a forced consolidation of Jewish
StAL File PP-V 5007, 29 November, 1938; 6 December, 1938; 19 December, 1938; 24 January, 1939; 3
April, 1939.
organizations. In October of that year, the SD seized the files of the Reichsbund, and in
November, the Gestapo was informed that the Reichsbund had shut down.240
Although the Zionist movement had enjoyed a relatively privileged existence in
Leipzig, and in the country generally, due to the government’s approval of their longterm goals, it shared equally in the misery of Kristallnacht. Their office was among
those targeted on the first night of the pogrom. It was not until the first week of
December that the eminent jurist Martin Alterthum, acting in his capacity as deputy chair
of the Zionist Organization in Leipzig, asked for and received permission to reopen the
The Zionist youth group was banned, and the leaders of Zionism in Leipzig obliged—
like their assimilationist rivals—to sign an agreement to cease their essential activity.
Their lease was dissolved, their office material sent to the Gemeinde, and their books sent
to the national library in Jerusalem. Alterthum was made to provide periodic reports to
the Gestapo, and by December of 1939 that office was able to report that the ZV had
closed its doors in Leipzig, and that its leading figures had emigrated, including Wilhelm
Dubiner, Louis Tumpowsky, and Walter Samuel, the men who had comprised the first
board of directors of the Vereinigung in 1925.242
The institutions that brought all the Jews of the city together were shut down. The
Lehrhaus made its last offering, for a Spanish course, the week of the pogrom.243 The
more divisive ones went quickly too, like the State Zionist Organization, gone by April,
StAL PP-V 4508 “Reichsbund jüd. Frontsoldaten”, 1935-1939, 2 November, 1939; StAL PP-V 4509
“Reichsbund Jüdischer Frontsoldaten, Ortsverband Leipzig” 1938-1940, 25 November, 1938; 14
December, 1938; 24 December, 1938; 5 August, 1939; 19 October, 1939.
StAL PP-V 3937/3939, 7 December, 1938.
StAL PP-V 1339, 20 December, 1939.
PP-V 4439, Polizeipräsidium Leipzig; “Israelitische ReligionsGemeinde zu Leipzig; Jüdisches
Lehrhaus”, 1935-1938, 1-12 November, 1938.
1939 (though correspondence between different elements of the police went back and
forth for months about what to do with those brown uniforms—eventually they were
given to an orphanage).244 Some were incorporated into the Gemeinde; some into the
new Reichsvereinigung; others disappeared entirely. Kristallnacht marked the effective
end of organized Jewish life in Leipzig.
One of the questions raised by Kristallnacht in Leipzig is whether it was a popular
event. Was it a case of a radical government driving hatred against some of its citizens,
or was it, more sadly, the majority of Leipzigers happily persecuting their neighbors?
Not surprisingly, this question raised some strong emotions among observers at the time,
and has afterward.
A vivid account of Kristallnacht in Leipzig was provided by the American consul in
the city to his superiors in Berlin. David H. Buffum offered a vivid and horrifying
picture of the events of the Kristallnacht and the days after, including attacks on
individuals, synagogues and homes. In an almost detached style, he described apartments
being ransacked, art being destroyed, business owners being arrested on charges of arson
against their own establishments and deportations of citizens to concentration camps. His
report is an insightful and provocative image, one of the best pictures of these events.
Buffum argued in explicit terms that the bulk of the people of Leipzig were opposed
to what happened in those days, and he scoffed at the claims of the government that what
had happened was a spontaneous act on the part of the German people, outraged by the
death of vom Rath: “So far as a very high percentage of the German populace is
concerned, a state of popular indignation that would spontaneously lead to such excesses,
StAL PP-V 4500—StaatsZionistische Organization, 1938-1940, 3 April, 1939; 27 July, 1939; May,
can be viewed as non-existent. On the contrary, in viewing the ruins and attendant
measures employed, all the local crowds observed were obviously benumbed over what
had happened and aghast over the unprecedented fury of Nazi acts that had been or were
taking place with bewildering rapidity throughout the city.”245
Describing the mob action that led to Jewish citizens being thrown into the creek bed
at the zoo, he said that the perpetrators—who were, “according to reliable testimony”, SS
and SA-men not in uniform—commanded “horrified spectators to spit at them [the
Jewish victims], defile them with mud, and jeer at their plight. The…incident has been
corroborated by German witnesses who were nauseated in telling the tale. The slightest
manifestation of sympathy evoked a positive fury on the part of the perpetrators and the
crowd was powerless to do anything but turn horror-stricken eyes from the scene of the
abuse, or leave the vicinity.”246
Shlomo Wahrman, a witness to the events, took sharp exception to Buffum’s
description: “I discussed this subject with my parents over and over again. We all had
witnessed mob scenes of Nazis participating in such atrocities as portrayed by the
Consulate. Never had we noticed any spectators “benumbed” over any of the heinous
outrages performed. The spectators generally chose to participate of their own free will,
and they acted with much enthusiasm and fervor. None of the spectators had to be
“commanded” to jeer, to deride, and to mock the plight of the victims. Any German,
even one vehemently opposed to Nazi barbarism, certainly would not have displayed
such opposition in public, thus jeopardizing himself and his family. To state otherwise,
Cited in Wahrman, 104-107.
and thereby whitewash and exonerate, even partially, some of the Nazis of the time, does
not do justice to the historic record of that period.”247
These accounts raise questions: who were the sources of Buffum’s reliable
testimony? Were they the same “German witnesses who were nauseated in telling the
tale”? If so, how representative of German society were they? One can well imagine the
motivations of a ant-Hitler German, speaking to an American diplomat, in minimizing the
perception of popular anti-Semitism. In total, given Buffum’s rather limited set of
witnesses, as well as his failure to deal with some of the most egregious events of the
pogrom, we must temper our reliance upon his account for interpretive purposes, though
it loses none of its narrative power.
What do we do with Rabbi Wahrman’s account? He was certainly privy to a distinct
perspective of the events of the pogrom as a young Jew, dodging the Gestapo, trying to
find his family. But Rabbi Wahrman is not a very objective voice (if anyone can be) on
the question of popular anti-Semitism. Perhaps his conflation of “German” and “Nazis”
in the previous selection might be overlooked, but the equation of virtually every German
with a nasty anti- Semitism is a theme of his memoir, culminating in his “Personal
Glimpse into Modern Germany”. In this description of his trips back to Leipzig since the
war, he is confronted with anti-S emites at every turn, and concludes that given the
“German national character”, it is “quite disturbing to see so many Jews returning to
settle in Germany today.”248
Almost certainly, the truth lies somewhere between Buffum’s sanguine report and
Wahrman’s bleak assessment. It is certainly the case that large numbers of Leipzigers
Ibid., 107-108.
Ibid., 144.
took part in the persecution of their Jewish neighbors. The events of the days of
November could not have happened otherwise. The mobs marching up and down the
street in Neu-Gohlis, the attacks on the trains at the station on the way to the camps, the
generalized unwillingness on the part of ordinary men and women to do anything to stop
the attacks: all of these point toward a pervasive hostility toward the Jews of Leipzig, and
away from Buffum’s optimism.249
However, there can be little question that the vast majority of the attacks against the
Jews of Leipzig were carried out by the apparatus of the state, and that the great majority
of the gentile citizens of the town had little to do with it. At every turn, one sees men in
uniform, or who should have been—Storm Troopers, policemen, Gestapo agents. It is
certainly clear that the events of Kristallnacht would never have happened had a radically
anti-S emitic government not been in place. No one would argue differently. Does this
mean that the events of November, 1938, were strictly a top-down phenomenon, and by
extension that the Holocaust was the act of a government acting almost in complete
detachment from its citizens? Sadly, no. The fact is that not only did some non-party
members, non-government agents, take part in the pogrom, but that the vast majority did
nothing, and this is the key. We can chalk some of this up to simple fear.
But in the final analysis, there was very little opposition to what happened on the 8th
of November, even from those with a history of resistance to authority and to the Nazis.
Apart from a few comments disparaging what was happening, no action was taken. The
communist underground did nothing, and neither did any other resistance movement.
There has been a general move away from the model of a party/population split in the November
pogrom, which was seen clearly in works like Yehuda Bauer’s History of the Holocaust, NewYork: 1982,
108. More recent studies, like Dwork and van Pelt’s Holocaust: a History, New York: 2002, 101-102,
have emphasized popular participation to a greater degree. This dissertation comes down more on the side
of the latter.
The unavoidable conclusion is that for the vast majority of Leipzigers, Jews might not
have been worthy of persecution, but neither were they worthy of rescue. And it is this
indifference, as Elie Wiesel and countless others have pointed out, that is the crucial
ingredient in genocide. There were Jew-haters in Leipzig, some who were in the party,
and others who were not. There were people who would write to the government and
complain that Jews were sitting in the park, or having services in the washroom. These
were the people who made the pogrom, and then perpetrated the genocide. But they were
not alone. As Christopher Browning has made clear, the active complicity of “neutral”
Germans was indispensable. This standing by, doing nothing, was the first step for
ordinary Germans on the road to participation in genocide, in Leipzig as in other German
The Dwindling of Jewish Life
Emigration of Jews from Leipzig had been heavy up until 1938, but the events of
Kristallnacht were a major turning point. Any continuing illusions about the viability of
a Jewish role in German national life were shatteredby the pogrom. While the period
before November, 1938 had seen a growth in the stature and power of the Zionists—and
a concomitant diminution of the formerly predominant assimilationist position—the
period after the riots saw a free-for-all, as Jewish Leipzigers of all political stripes did the
best they could to get out. Some went to Israel, some to the USA, some to England, and
even a few to Shanghai.250 This was a time of crucial transition, before the deportations,
StAL Bezirkstag und Rat des Bezirkes Leipzig 14569—VdN file on Bruno and Gertrud Alexander,
Lebenslauf from 1 March, 1951.
but during which the untenability of a continuing Jewish presence in Leipzig was made
crystal clear.
One by one, the institutions of Jewish life emptied out, as their leaders, members
and employees fled the country. It was no surprise to see Zionists leaving the country,
certainly. They had been predicting, if not this level of catastrophe, then the necessity of
facing up to the long-term prospect of exclusion from the German community. Indeed,
they had been going for years, and Kristallnacht only hastened the process. Leo
Goldwasser had gone that February, and the local Staatszionisten organization was in
The leadership of the mainstream Zionistische Vereinigung followed suit. By
January of 1939, the Vorstand of the local ZV reported that their activities had ceased,
that their lease was to be dissolved, and that Wilhelm Dubiner, leader of the ZV since its
founding in Leipzig in 1925, was sending its library to the National Bucherei (library) in
Jerusalem.251 That December, in response to a query from the Amtsgericht (local court),
the local Gestapo asserted that the ZV had not existed for several years [sic], and that the
leadership—including Wilhelm Dubiner, Louis Tumpowski and Walther Samuel, the
original Vorstand from 1925—had emigrated. The Gestapo recommended that the
Amtsgericht remove the ZV from its rolls, which the Amtsgericht did.252
None of this is surprising. A clearer indication is the movement of
assimilationists out of the country. If anyone was going to stay in the country, it would
have been Karl Sabatzky, the leader of the local Centralverein, and also an important
figure in the integrationist Reichsbund jüdischer Frontsoldaten (RBjFS). Sabatzky had
StAL PP-V 3937/9 Polizeipräsidium Leipzig files on Zionistische Vereinigung Leipzig, 1936-1939, 8
January, 1939.
Ibid., 20 December, 1939.
been fighting for his position against Zionists and against Nazis for years. Though he had
since come to acknowledge the correctness of the need for emigration, he apparently had
made no move in that direction himself until after Kristallnacht, his arrest, and the
closure of his offices. By January of 1939, he notified the government of his intent to
Sabatzky was also the officer of the RBjFS responsible for aid to war victims, and
the final sign of him in the archives comes with his resignation of that office in July of
1939 due to his impending emigration.254 This was the last sign of Sabatzky in Leipzig,
perhaps the most influential and fearless proponent of the integrationist position in the
city. The RBjFS was not long in following him out of Leipzig: in June, it had told the
Gestapo that emigration had sapped its membership to 35 paying and 80 nonpaying
members.255 This organization—the bulwark of integrationist Jewry in Leipzig, which
had boasted 278 members as late as October, 1935, including the Held brothers, owners
of the department store bearing their names; the cantor Max Jaffé, and the Chairman of
the Gemeinde, Dr. Conrad Goldschmidt256—was absorbed into the Reichsvertretung der
Juden in Deutschland (National Representation of Jews in Germany, the Nazi-supervised
umbrella group for Jews) that Fall.257
Organizations that had no particular stake in the argument over nationality lost
members and employees too. The HilfsVerein Israelitischer Gewerbetreibender Leipzig
(aid society of Jewish tradesmen) was obliged to make the same sort of monthly reports
StAL File PP-V 5007 “Akten des Polizeiamts der Stadt Leipzig, betreffend den ZentralVerein [sic]
deutscher Staatsbürger jüdischen Glaubens Ortsgr. Leipzig, 1911-1940, 24 January, 1939; also on 15
February, 1939.
StAL PP-V 4509 “Reichsbund Jüdischer Frontsoldaten, Ortsverband Leipzig” 1938-1940, 22 July, 1939.
Ibid., 30 June, 1939.
Ibid., October, 1935.
Ibid., 26 October, 1939.
to the authorities as the more political organizations were. It reported that its employees
were emigrating, including their office manager Thekla Feiner.258
Emigration of members and leaders was part of an overall change of character,
function and personality for the Religionsgemeinde—as for the Jewish community as a
whole—after Kristallnacht. Financially devastated after the destruction of its
synagogues, its numbers ravaged by emigration, its leaders increasingly gone, it turned in
a new direction, trying to provide help for members when it could, seeing to their
spiritual needs as much as possible, and seeing the emergence of a new generation of
leaders, some of whom would stay in the city throughout the dark days to come and
provide the core of leaders for the postwar period.
The Jewish population of Leipzig had been cut from over 11,000 in 1933 to
around 9,000 in 1938, a drop of about 22% that was one of the lowest among big Jewish
communities in the country.259 The 1939 census reported 4,470 Jews in town. This drop,
according to a statistical analysis, was largely the result of the expulsion of the Poles.260
This all points to a distinctive characteristic of the Jewish community in Leipzig and their
experience in the Holocaust: it became more German. The ration of 70/30 in favor of
foreigners—taking into account emigration, expulsion and an influx of rural Jews into the
city—was cut to about 55/45.261
Whether this would have had an effect on the politics and society of the Gemeinde
is difficult to say, because emigration picked up from 1938 and there was very little
StAL file PP-V 4436, Hilfsverein Israelitischer Gewerbetreibender Leipzig, e.V.], 1938, 39, 2 May,
There is no definitive answer why Leipzig should be different in this regard. The distinctive
characteristic of Jewish life in Leipzig, its foreign-born population, does not lend itself immediately or
clearly to any such explanation.
Grubel and Mecklenburg, 166.
Ibid., 167.
stability among leadership, religious or political. The leading rabbis of the community,
Felix Goldmann (Reform) and Ephraim Carlebach (Orthodox), had been replaced earlier.
Goldmann had died in 1934, and had been with Gustav Cohn,262 and Carlebach had
emigrated in 1936, replaced with David Ochs.263 The elected leadership of the Gemeinde
turned over rapidly, including Vorsitzender (Chairman)Carl Goldschmidt (emigrated in
1940, and replaced by Paul Michael264), Wilhelm Breslauer (replaced by Samuel Hodes,
who died in August 1940, and was replaced by Fritz Grunsfeld and Bernhard
Weissmann265), the jurist Martin Alterthum, also a former leader of the Zionists in
Leipzig, Dr. David Kuritzkes.
The management of the Gemeinde changed, too. Fritz Grubel, the business
manager of the Gemeinde since his expulsion from the practice of law in 1933, left soon
after his internment in Buchenwald. He eventually became a very important figure at the
Leo Baeck Institute in New York, and then President of the Ephraim Carlebach Stiftung
(foundation) in 1991 and a leading figure in the 1995 foundation of the Simon-DubnowInstitut in Leipzig. He left early in 1939 for England and then the USA, but not before he
had arranged for the appointment of Fritz Grunsfeld, another jurist whose legal career had
been interrupted, and who would be a central figure in the postwar history of the
The New Realities
StAL file pp-v 4437, Polizeipräsidiums Leipzig file on “Israelitische ReligionsGemeinde zu Leipzig”,
1935-38, 29 October, 1935.
Ibid., March 7, 1936.
PP-V 2265, Polizeipräsidium Leipzig; Vereinsregister des Amtgerichts Leipzig, Israelitische
ReligionsGemeinde zu Leipzig, e.V., 30 May, 1940.
Ibid., 10 October, 1940.
Grubel and Mecklenburg, 164.
The appointment of Grunsfeld to the managerial post was the central element in
the emergence of a new group of leaders for the Gemeinde. With the traditional
leadership emigrating in droves, those who were left were a different group: they tended
to be younger, they were often poorer, or dealing with older relatives (one possible reason
why Grunsfeld did not emigrate), and often they were married to non-Jews. To call these
people marginal in the community would be too strong—a man like Alfred Muscattblatt
had been active in the community for years, despite his having married a gentile (albeit
one who had converted).267
But people like Alfred Muscatblatt and Fritz Grunsfeld were not the kinds of
people who had run the Gemeinde before—they were not wealthy businessmen or
professionals. Muscatblatt was an electrician who had been reduced to working in
another shop and teaching for the Gemeinde. Grunsfeld had seen his law career end
before it had begun, when his studies were interrupted. Salo Looser, another leader who
would emerge at the end of the war, spent the bulk of this period in jails and camps for
his underground work with the socialist-Zionist youth group Habonim. These were not
the traditional elites, and when they took command of the Gemeinde at the end of the
war—Alfred Muscatblatt’s name is the first on any document issued after the collapse of
the Nazi regime—it signaled a shift in power.
The old divisions—foreign born vs. German; Zionist vs. assimilationist; rich vs.
poor—were rendered meaningless by the events of the genocide as they gathered
momentum. The bulk of the foreign-born Jews were deported early on, and most Zionists
left, and the rich had more of the resources needed to leave. The single brutal fact about
StAL Bezirkstag und Rat des Bezirkes Leipzig 15418—VdN file on Alfred and Margarete Muscatblatt,
25 May, 1949.
the Gemeinde is that it was decimated by the efforts of the Germans: by 1945, the
community had been reduced from 11,000 souls to 86 persons, only 24 of whom had
been members of the religious community.268 The simple fact of survival by those who
were fortunate enough to do so meant that the Gemeinde would have a ready—and utterly
different—elite coming out of the genocide than that that which had headed it before.
The process of expropriation of Jewish property was as thoroughgoing in Leipzig
as anywhere in Germany. After 1933, German Jews were systematically coerced into
giving up their possessions in Leipzig, a process that intensified dramatically after the
pogrom of 1938. A good example of systematic deprivation is Alfred Muscatblatt, the
“Jüdischer Elektromeister”. Having run his own shop for 25 years, he was forced to sell
in 1938, and reclassified as an unskilled laborer. In 1939, he and his wife Margarete
were obliged to turn over their radio, and later that year to vacate their apartment and
move into a so-called “Judenhaus”. Their coal ration was cut 90%. Despite Margarete’s
racial status, they were obliged to use a Jewish ration card. Their typewriter, furs,
jewelry, carpets, and—perhaps most painfully for Alfred—their electrical appliances
were taken away. When their apartment was bombed out in 1945, they were denied
access to any other shelter, and had to sleep outside for 2 weeks. They tried to move into
Margarete’s brother’s empty apartment but were denounced. Eventually they found longterm shelter in a soup kitchen.269
Held, Zwischen Tradition und Vermächtnis, 8.
StAL Bezirkstag und Rat des Bezirkes Leipzig 15418—VdN file on Alfred and Margarete Muscatblatt,
25 May, 1949.
The case of the Muscatblatts points out the variety of economic attacks on Jews—
businesses, homes, property, all lost. Many others lost their businesses, to be sure. The
big department stores owned by Jews suffered through the boycott and, one by one, were
sold off to gentile profiteers. The Held brothers, Albert and Moritz, sold off in 1937 and
got out of the country, settling in London and prospering. Their brother Max, who had
owned a separate store, ended up in Chile working as a janitor. The Ury brothers’ store
near the Roßplatz was aryanized in 1938, but not before it had burned in the Kristallnacht
Perhaps the most shameless expropriation of a big department store was that of
Samuel Hodes, the “Große Feuerkugel” on the Neumarkt. In 1937, a man named
Reinhold Bock secured the store through Aryanization, and began advertising what he
had done in the papers, pointing out to customers that the store was finally German, that
it was “yours again”. Not willing to go too far in suggesting a break with the past, he
also assured customers that it was the same store they had patronized for all those years,
just with a new name. The tone was utterly without remorse. It is perhaps to the credit of
the people of Leipzig that Hodes outlived the new incarnation of his life’s work. The
store folded in March, 1938, while Hodes survived—able for some reason to keep access
to some of his money—until 1940, as a highly honored member of the Jewish community
and an important figure on the board of directors of the Gemeinde. The beautiful baroque
building that was the store’s home was destroyed in bombing during the war. Before he
died, Hodes paid off the bill from the fire department after the Kristallnacht burning of
the Ez Chaim synagogue he had founded. He was also personally responsible for paying
what amounted to a bribe to the Gestapo to keep a Jewish school open during his
Others lost their businesses: Richard Frank’s textile factory was placed in
receivership in 1937, and finally aryanized in 1939. Frank was one of the lucky few in
that he survived and his property was returned to him after the war, albeit with “nine
tenth’s of the buildings and machines destroyed due to the war.”271 The Zellner family
had owned a restaurant for “many decades” in the Brühl fur-dealers’ district downtown,
which had been an important Jewish meeting place. It was taken from them in 1938.272
The entire Brühl district changed hands, as fur firms—the pinnacle of Jewish commerce
in the city, along with the department stores—were stolen from their owners. Josef
Margulis had founded his firm on the Brühl in 1913. In 1940, it was taken from him
without even the fiction of compensation.273
Publishing houses, a prestigious industry in Leipzig, were taken away one by one,
including the famous music publishers C.F. Peter, Thalia, and Ernst Eulenburg, though
some held out until after the beginning of the war.274 The delay is perhaps attributable to
the international prestige attached to such firms. Indeed, when one new proprietor tried
to change its name of his business, he was admonished by the authorities that such a
move was unnecessary and undesirable, since a) the name (Eulenburg) was not an
exclusively Jewish one, and b) overseas customers might think the company was not the
Andrea Lorz, Suchtet der Stadt Bestes: Lebensbilder jüdischer Unternehmer aus Leipzig, 1996: Pro
Leipzig, 137-149.
StAL, Bezirkstag und Rat des Bezirkes Leipzig 14198—VdN File on Richard Frank, undated postwar
LGA 315, 27 May, 1946.
StAL Bezirkstag und Rat des Bezirkes Leipzig 14032—VdN file on Martha & Josef Margulis,
Lebenslauf from 25 May, 1950.
StAL #4100—Musikverlag C.F. Peter, 31 October, 1940; StAL #19328—BörsenVerein der
Deutschenbuchhändler zu Leipzig—Thalia Musikverlag, Rudolf Erdmann, 7 May, 1942; StAL 12262—
BörsenVerein der Deutschen Buchhändler zu Leipzig—Sander, Horst, 26 May, 1937.
same: “If the company of the music publisher who is still in Leipzig were to change its
name, the market—namely the overseas market—would take the impression that the firm
had moved to London [where Eulenburg had set up a new company under his own name]
and that the publisher’s materials were only to be had in London. As has been reported to
us, the former owner is doing everything he can to give the public that impression.”275
The publishing houses also point out the degree of squabbling among potential
beneficiaries of aryanisation. Not content to despoil their Jewish neighbors, some
Germans made it their business to profit by taking from their “racial comrades.” The
Thalia Verlag was taken from its original, Jewish owner and placed under the trusteeship
of Nazi Standartenführer Gerhard Noatzke, who was called into Wehrmacht service in
1942. A round of disputes went on about the appointment of a new Treuhander (trustee)
when a party official questioned the appointment in the course of obtaining the position
on behalf of a party comrade whose son wanted it.276
And, of course, people’s homes were taken from them. The Margulises were
forced to sell their home on the Nordplatz, close to downtown and the site of a large
Lutheran church, because it was not appropriate “that a Jew lived so close to an
evangelical church and a pastor’s house.”277 Samuel Hodes was allowed to live in his
home in the Beethovenstraße for a relatively long time, before he had to move to a Jewish
old age home, where he died in 1940.278 Moses Fisch, a textiles salesman, and his wife
were evicted from their house in the Humboldtstraße, where they had lived for 24 years,
StAL 12262—BörsenVerein der Deutschen Buchhändler zu Leipzig—Sander, Horst, 16 February, 1940.
StAL #19328—BörsenVerein der Deutschenbuchhändler zu Leipzig—Thalia Musikverlag, Rudolf
Erdmann, 7 May, 1942, 18 August, 1942, 2 December, 1942.
StAL Bezirkstag und Rat des Bezirkes Leipzig 14032—VdN file on Martha & Josef Margulis, undated Lebenslauf.
Andrea Lorz, Suchtet der Stadt Bestes: Lebensbilder jüdischer Unternehmer aus Leipzig, 1996: Pro
Leipzig, 137-138.
in 1941.279 Some of these homes went directly into the hands of party leaders, including
Gestapo leaders, a propagandist for Der Stürmer, and a holder of a major decoration from
the National Socialist Party.280
When Jewish Leipzigers were evicted from their homes, some emigrated, but for
many that option was no longer available, and they were obliged in 1939 to move into socalled “Judenhäuser”, group homes that formed a kind of internal ghetto. The newspaper
“Leipziger Neueste Nachrichten” newspaper announced the new policy: Jews who were
too old or too poor to migrate would be moved into centralized houses. “One wants to
avoid the development of a new ghetto. But, at the same time, one wants to avoid
scattered herds of Jewish residences with a presence in the entire city. The law allows
the necessary authority over Jewish tenancies.” This, of course, meant that the authorities
now had the power to break Jews’ leases and ownership of homes in order to evict them.
“If the war had not hindered the atmosphere and possibility of emigration, the questions
of residence would have been settled by the end of the year. One awaits the end of the
war and the opening of borders, so that the problem can solve itself.” There were to be
47 houses made available, for about 3,800 people.281
By the end of the next month, the press was able to proclaim “North and West
suburbs almost Jew-free: the quartering of the undesired guests makes good progress.”
There had, the paper said, been 42 Jewish families in the Neu-Gohlis neighborhood, even
after the waves of emigration. Now there were only six, and ought to be none by the end
StAL Bezirkstag und Rat des Bezirkes Leipzig 15812—VdN file on Moses Fisch, Lebenslauf from 17
October, 1948.
LGA 319, 12 July, 1945.
Leipziger Neueste Nachrichten, 31 October, 1939, in SAL, Kapital 1. #122—files on Maßnahmen gegen
jüdischen Bürger, 1935-43.
of the year. “If a large part of the shifty [mauschelnden] co-habitants have—finally!—
emigrated, there are still many Jews in the Reichsmessestadt, and they were distributed
partially in good and reasonably priced housing over the whole city…over 300 empty
houses have been won in this way by the householders for German families.”
Ortsgruppenführer Furst, in charge of the project, said “it is an unusual task for a
National Socialist, creating Jewish old-age homes. But the work is joyous if one keeps
the goal in mind: meticulous separation between Jews and Aryans!”282 As the news story
made clear, the goal was not only the separation of Jews and gentiles, but the possibility
of profit by ordinary Leipzigers through the dispossession of their Jewish neighbors.
Martha and Josef Margulis had to leave their home on the Nordplatz and move to
a Judenhaus after shuffling between homes for a couple of years. Their home was
eventually bombed out.283 The wholesaler Moritz Engelberg had to give up his apartment
and live in a succession of Judenhäuser while doingforced labor in sand pits.284 Factory
owner Richard Frank, salesman Moses Fisch, business teacher Fritz Cohn, bakery supply
seller Heinrich Rosenthal, electrician Alfred Muscatblatt—all of them found themselves
with their families cheek-by-jowl in these new dwellings. As in so many other cases of
Nazi persecution, the relocation of Jewish Leipzigers had the effect of a drastic social
reordering: rich and poor, Orthodox and reform, religious and non-religious, Jews of all
kinds now saw their previous social standing rendered irrelevant. The Nazis did not care
who they were, or what they had done for a living. They only saw Jews.
Ibid., 22 November, 1939.
StAL Bezirkstag und Rat des Bezirkes Leipzig 14032—VdN file on Martha & Josef Margulis, undated
StAL Bezirkstag und Rat des Bezirkes Leipzig 12971—VdN file on Moritz Engelberg, Lebenslauf from
7 August, 1952.
Those who stayed in the Judenhäuser were a shrinking minority—deportations of
the 2,000 remaining Leipzig Jews began in January, 1942. When the first train left, the
houses they stayed in were emptied and offered to gentiles. What had been 38 houses
was reduced by the end to two, including the remains of the Talmud-Thora synagogue on
Deportations of Jews from Leipzig had begun in 1938, with the expulsion of
Polish Jews from the city before Kristallnacht. Organized by the Gestapo and its head of
the Judenreferat (Jews Office), Paul Zenner, deportations began in earnest with one to
Riga on 21 January, 1942. 559 Leipzig Jews were taken—127 men to 346 women and 86
children.286 The youngest was Gittel Freier, 9 weeks old, and the oldest was Else
Wachsmann, who was 69. Wachsmann would have been left along with the other over65 year olds, but did not want to be separated from her family. Among the deportees was
the former Staatszionist Margot Petzold, unable to follow her mentor Leo Goldwasser
into emigration in Israel.287
After a stay in the Volksschule on Yorkstraße, the 559 were put on trains on a
very cold day; all of their warm clothing had long since been confiscated. The train, full
by now with passengers from a previous stop in Dresden, consisted of unheated cars.
After a three-day ride, the deportees were put off near Riga, and made to walk the 15
kilometers into town to join the ghetto. Most of the 30,000 residents of the ghetto had
Ellen Bertram, Menschen ohne Grabstein: die aus Leipzig deportierten und ermordeten Juden. 2001:
Pro Leipzig, 17-18.
It is difficult to say with any certainty why more men than women were taken at this point. Perhaps the
labor value of the men was still perceived to be greater.
Adolf Diamont Deportationsbuch der in den Jahren 1942 bis 1945 von Leipzig aus gewaltsam
verschickten Juden, 1991: Frankfurt a/m, self published, 19.
recently been taken into the nearby woods and shot to make room for the new arrivals
from German cities.
A rudimentary self government was set up, and some Leipzigers took part, like
the Körners: the husband was in the ghetto police, and the wife worked in job placement.
The ghetto was depleted by occasional massacres of thousands at a time until June 1943,
when Himmler ordered the closing of the eastern ghettos. The residents of the Riga
ghetto were moved into the Kaiserwald concentration camp in another part of the city,
where things were much worse than they had been in the ghetto. Selections claimed most
of the old and the children at this time.
In August and September of 1944, Kaiserwald was evacuated in the face of the
approaching Red Army, and the remaining inmates marched into Germany, to the
Stutthof concentration camp near Danzig. Selections, starvation and an epidemic of
typhus claimed many of those who had survived thus far. When the Red Army began
making its way close to the camp in January of 1945, it was liquidated and its inmates
marched west into Germany, hundreds starving along the way. On the 14th of April,
Himmler ordered that the inmates be allowed to fall into Allied hands, and a few
survivors began to trickle home, except for those who were murdered on the initiative of
their guards. Nineteen of the original deportees from Leipzig survived the war.288
Several months later, a second major transport was undertaken from Leipzig, this
time to the ghetto in Belzec in Poland. This transport carried 287 men, women and
children to their fates, including nine children from the Jewish orphans’ home and five of
their caretakers. Also on this train were former members of the Vorstand of the
Bertram., 30-34.
Gemeinde Wilhelm Nemann and Dr. Rudolf Neumann and their families.289 Typhus,
starvation and SS brutality whittled down their numbers in the ghetto, until October,
when the young people were sent to labor in Majdanek, and the rest subjected to
deportations to the Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka camps.290 Of these 287 deportees, only
one survived: Emil Wittman, a former SPD and Habonim underground worker whose
entire family was killed, but who survived twenty-one camps doing illegal political work
before liberation and return to Leipzig, where he remarried.291
There were two more deportations from Leipzig in 1942: one to Auschwitz on
July 13 with 170 people, and one to Theresienstadt on September 19 with 440. The
Auschwitz transport was devastating to those still working in and for the Gemeinde.
Cantors Max Jaffé and Samuel Lampel, with their families, were deported, along with
Jenny Landsberg, the nurse for the Gemeinde, and Josef Silberberg, its gardener.292 This
was the first of two direct deportations to Auschwitz: the other came on 18 June, 1943,
with eighteen people, representing the last of the Jews of Leipzig who were not protected
by non-Jewish spouses or children. There were no known survivors from either of these
The rest of the deportations from Leipzig went to Theresienstadt, representing
about 700 people, all told. Most of these were old people, the last line of those working
for the Gemeinde and, at the very end, Jewish partners in mixed marriages. The largest
of these deportations was the first one, in September, 1942. 83% of the 434 adults and
six children crammed into the Volksschule on Yorkstraße were over the age of 60. At
Diamont, 85, 75.
Bertram., 35-37.
Ibid., 37; Wittmann’s Lebenslauf in StAL Bezirkstag und Rat des Bezirkes Leipzig 13204—VdN file on
Ella and Emil Wittmann, 15 May, 1948.
Diamont, 104-106, 109.
Bertram, 37-39.
least fourteen employees of the Gemeinde were on this transport, including the former
Chair of the Gemeinde Paul Michael, who survived. Ludwig Bamberger, of the store
Bamberger and Hertz, went to Theresienstadt, where he died with his wife. Of the 440
deportees from September 1942, 293 died in the ghetto. Forty-twosurvived until the
ghetto was liberated, eleven managed to escape to Switzerland in February of 1945, and
the rest perished in deportations to other camps.
There were smaller deportations to Theresienstadt in 1943 and 1944, including the
head of the University Women’s clinic since 1909, Prof. Dr. Felix Skutsch and his wife,
Helene in February, 1943. She died in the camp, but he survived, and was reappointed as
the head of the clinic. He died in 1951. Max and Fanny Muscatblatt were also in that
transport, along with their two teenaged children. Max was the brother of the electricians
Albert and Alfred. All three brothers had been arrested after Kristallnacht, and Albert
had died in a camp shortly thereafter. Max died after deportation from the ghetto to
Auschwitz, along with his wife and daughter Ruth. His son Heinz was one of the few
survivors from that transport, and his brother Alfred survived the war in Leipzig,
protected by his marriage to a non-Jew. Alfred became a prominent re-founder of the
Leipzig Gemeinde.
On 18 June, 1943, twelve Jewish Leipzigers were deported to Theresienstadt at
the same time that 18 others were sent to Auschwitz. Included in these was Fritz
Grunsfeld, the former business manager of the Gemeinde, saved this long by his status as
Geschäftsführer of the regional branch of the Reichsvereinigung der Juden in
Deutschland. Grunsfeld survived—one of four who did—to play a very important role in
Jewish life after the war. In January, 1944, thirty-six more Jews were deported from
Leipzig, mostly those whose non-Jewish spouse had died or divorced them, leaving them
without protection. Of these thirty-six, twenty survived.
This left about 275 Jews and their children in Leipzig, still protected by their
marriages to non-Jews. When it became clear in January of 1945 that they, too, were to
be deported, a rash of suicides swept through those left, including a 65-year-old woman
who jumped from her balcony and an entire family who feared that the mother and a
daughter were about to be deported. On the 14th of February 143 men and women and 5
children—about half the remaining Jewish population of the town—were deported to
Theresienstadt. That ghetto was saved from mass murder only by the intervention of the
International Red Cross, which sent representatives in April who were there when the
Red Army arrived on the 8th of May. 147 of the 148 people on this last transport
survived.294 A second transport, presumably for the remaining Jews in the city, was
organized, but the authorities were unable to carry it out because of the collapse of the
government and the occupation of the city by Americans.295
Of the 1,831 Jews deported between January 1942 and February 1945, 253
survived, or 14%. If the last transport to Theriesenstadt is excluded, the survival rate
drops to 6%.296 The Nazis had been largely successful in ridding Leipzig of Jews. Of the
11,564 members of the Gemeinde—plus an unknown number of Jews who chose not to
hold membership in the Gemeinde—less than 300 remained. Through emigration, the
young and well-off had left. Through terror and expulsion, the Polish Jews had left.
Through deportation, the old and poor and the few remaining to serve the rest in the
Ibid., 43-47.
StAL Bezirkstag und Rat des Bezirkes Leipzig 14198—VdN File on Richard Frank, Lebenslauf from
Bertram, 27.
Gemeinde had largely perished. Now, all who remained were those who were married to
non-Jews, and those who had managed somehow to survive the camps. It would be from
this point that the Jewish community of Leipzig would rebuild.
Chapter 4: A Phoenix in Saxony: the Revival of Jewish life in Leipzig after the Second
World War
The earliest days of the re-establishment of the Jewish community in Leipzig after
the end of the war were filled with confusion, as different people sought to present
themselves as the legal heirs to the Gemeinde, and at the same time began to reclaim
what had been theirs, whether homes or jobs or a place in the life of the city. These early
stages were marked by close and often fairly friendly cooperation between the city and
the few Jews who remained and who began to return home.
A list in the archives gives the names of 86 Jewish people living in Leipzig in
February, 1945. The majority of these were members of mixed marriages, who were
spared deportation until the very end because of their gentile spouses. They were joined
by a steady stream of returnees, led on May 17 by a bus full of political prisoners, around
80 former Communists and Social Democrats, including four Jews. When the Red Army
liberated Theresienstadt that month they found around 200 Jewish Leipzigers among the
17,000 survivors, including those deported on the last train from Leipzig to the camps, on
February 14, 1945. These began arriving in June. These numbers were augmented by
about 62 people who had survived transports further east, to Auschwitz-Birkenau,
Treblinka and Majdanek, the last of 2,300 Jews from Leipzig who had been deported to
the camps between January 1942 and February, 1945.297 By 1946, there were a total of
250 Jews in Leipzig.298
The first question to be settled was the simple one of who represented Jews in
Leipzig. Ernst Goldfreund, a former member of the Zionistische Vereinigung in
Leipzig299 and a journalist who edited the Gemeindeblatt after 1933, wrote to the new
Bürgermeister Dr. Vierling. He had heard that a new Jewish office was going to be set
up, and he thought he, Goldfreund, was the appropriate candidate, given his breadth of
experience.300 Vierling wrote back, saying he had no intention of setting up a new office
for Jewish affairs, “especially since I must reduce the administration [of the city] as
drastically as possible.” At any rate, he said, it wasn’t up to him. He said that the
Reichsvereinigung had already appointed Heinrich Dziubas to represent the interests of
Jews in Leipzig.301 If this is true, it represents an interesting institutional continuity,
since of course the Reichsvereinigung was a Nazi-era creation.
Another contender, a lawyer named Hans Brickner, sent his claim in around the
same time. He told the city that he wanted to represent the interests of people of mixed
heritage, and the relatives of Jews. Apparently, the city had already told him of Dziubas’
appointment, but that did not matter, since “we [people of mixed heritage] are not Jews,
and have completely different interests.” He claimed to already represent 200 people,
with another 200 waiting to join. He also asked for help in the matter of a circus he was
Steffen Held, Zwischen Tradition und Vermächtnis. Die Israelitische Religionsgemeinde zu Leipzig nach
1945, 8.
Source: Ausschuß der Deutschen Statisker, P 136-142. In Lothar Mertens, Davidstern unter Hammer
und Zirkel: Die Jüdischen Gemeinden in der SBZ-DDR und ihre Behandlung durch Partei und Staat 19451990. (Haskala, 18) Hildesheim, 1997. 30.
StAL PP-V 3937/9, January 1, 1936.
SAL Stadtbezirksammlung und Rat der Stadt Leipzig 1945-1970 (1) Nr. 7868, 9 May, 1945.
Ibid., 11 May, 1945.
managing, which perhaps did not help to impress his seriousness upon the officials who
read his request.302
Brickner was later to ask for recognition of a new organization he was founding
for all victims of racial discrimination, which would represent all persons of Jewish
heritage, not just “Mischlinge”, or those with some Jewish and some “Aryan” heritage.303
It later turned out that Brickner had been a member of the NSDAP, active in the
Stahlhelm, and a participant in the boycott of Jewish businesses, before he was expelled
from the party for being a half-Jew. He fled to the west, and was exposed in
Württemburg.304 He was certainly not the ideal candidate for representing the interests of
Jews in Leipzig.
But none of this was known to the city when they rejected his requests. Instead,
the Bürgermeister told him that these matters had to be “addressed through resolution of
the legal foundations”.305 This raised an interesting question: who could found
institutions, who had legal authority, in a society where all institutions had been
shattered, and in which legal authority was very much an open question?
Richard Frank, along with Heinrich Dziubas, Alfred Muscatblatt and Leo
Teichtner, had the answer to the question of legal authority, and had asked the short-lived
American military government (the US occupied Leipzig briefly, from April to June of
1945, before turning over authority to the Russians), in English, for recognition of their
claim to re-establish the Gemeinde.306 The narrative of the re-establishment of the
community is found in an activity report prepared by the Gemeinde at the end of 1946.
Ibid., 17 May, 1945.
Ibid., 13 June, 1945.
Ibid., 14 March, 1948.
Ibid., 28 May, 1945.
Ibid., 9 May, 1945.
“Immediately after the liberation from the yoke of the Nazi criminals the fourteen Jews
remaining in Leipzig constituted an Israelitische Religionsgemeinde [a Jewish religious
community]. This Gemeinde was made larger and larger by the return of inmates from
concentration camps until in September of 1945 it was possible to form a board of
directors. Already permission had been given for the Israelitische Religionsgemeinde by
the then-existing American occupation.”307
Only 24 of the surviving Jews of Leipzig had been active members of the
Gemeinde; the rest were members of Christian churches through their spouses, or
officially without religion. As we know from a growing literature on the subject, Jewish
men who were married to non-Jewish women were much more likely to survive than
those from traditional marriages. Such work includes Nathan Stoltzfus’ studies of the
Rosenstraße protests in Berlin of “Aryan” women demanding the release of their
husbands308, as well as the diaries of Viktor Klemperer, married to a non-Jew. Certainly,
such men constituted a disproportionate number of the Jewish survivors of Leipzig.
From these twenty-four, fourteen reconstituted the Gemeinde. They elected
Frank, Muscatblatt and Teichtner as the Vorstand (the board of directors), with Dziubas
added later. The Red Cross put the Vorstand in touch with the Americans, and the Allies
took a step toward restoring the position of the Gemeinde—and all Jewish organizations
in Germany—with the Allied Control Council’s Law Number 1, which overturned all
laws discriminating against the Jews. The Vorstand then approached the local German
authority, the Landesverwaltung Sachsen. On 29 January, 1946, the Gemeinde was
reinstated as a quasi-official public body according to the Saxon law of 1906, under
LGA, undated “Tätigskeitberich des Vorstandes der Israelitischen ReligionsGemeinde zu Leipzig für die
Zeit der Wiederöffnung 15. Mai 1945 bis zum Schluss des Kalendarjahres 1946”.
Nathan Stoltzfus, Resistance of the Heart, WW Norton, 1996.
which it had originally been founded.309 That same year, the Leipzig Gemeinde
participated in a Vorbereitendes Landesausschuß, which led in 1949 to the founding of
the Landesverband der Jüdischen Gemeinden in der Russischen Okkupationszone [later
in der DDR].310
The New Leaders
The early efforts of the refounded Gemeinde were focused on the many thousands
of Jewish returnees moving through Leipzig on their way home from the camps. Feeding
these refugees and finding them help on their way home took up much of the early energy
of the Gemeinde. As these refugees dwindled, business took on a more normal tone. The
Vorstand was expanded to include new members, housing was provided for members of
the Gemeinde, liaisons were appointed to deal with the city, and transportation and
medical care was provided for those few who were still trickling in from Theresienstadt.
The men who recreated the Gemeinde represented a particular segment of the old
Leipzig Jewish population. An examination of the biographies of Frank and Muscatblatt
can give us some idea of the kind of people who were remaking the Gemeinde. Richard
Frank was born in Halle in 1870. He moved with his parents to Leipzig in 1875. He
stayed in school through his Abitur, taking it at the King Albert Gymnasium. He then
served a two-year apprenticeship at a canvas factory in Kassel, after which he did his two
years of military service with the 134th infantry regiment in Leipzig, reaching the rank of
Held, 8-11.
Mertens, 36.
He traveled, and trained in London and Paris, and in 1893 went to work at his
father’s textiles factory. In 1896, he built his own factory, and went into partnership with
his father the following year. Thus established, he married Elise (whose last name and
religious background are not known) in 1898, with whom he had two daughters, and from
whom he separated in 1926, because Elise had been forced to take up residence in a
sanatorium. The same year, he married the former Amanda Lawrenz, a Lutheran.
He studied national economy and statistics at the University of Leipzig for two
years in the 1890s, and his success and prominence in the field was made clear by his
service as a trade judge [Handelsrichter, a referee within a guild-like structure] from
1920 until the Nazi takeover. In 1937, his business was taken over by a trustee, and in
1939, it was completely aryanized. His troubles were lessened somewhat by his marriage
to a gentile, as he acknowledged after the war. Although he did have to wear a star, and
carry a Jewish ration card, and live in a Judenhaus, he was spared from the mass
transports to the death camps, along with others living in mixed marriages.
When his number was called for deportation in February, 1945, he was held back
from the first transport because of illness. By the time the second transport was ready,
the allies had occupied Saxony. His holdings were returned to him by the Soviet
authorities, although they were greatly diminished by the damage of the war.311 His
prewar prominence as a leader of industry—apparent again after the war by his
appointment to a prominent position for the industry and trade chamber of Leipzig in
1946—made him a natural choice for the post of chair of the Gemeinde.
StAL Bezirkstag und Rat des Bezirkes Leipzig 14198—VdN file on Richard Frank. Lebenslauf
submitted in 1950 as part of application for “Victim of the Nazi Regime” status.
Alfred Muscatblatt had advertised himself as the “Jewish Elektromeister” before
the Nazi takeover, a serious presence in the Jewish artisanal community and an
independent businessman for 25 years. He had been a member of the SPD, and had been
active in the Gemeinde. He had married his wife Margarete, in 1927, at which point she
had converted to Judaism. Muscatblatt’s business began to disintegrate in 1933, when
the Nazi-influenced city government ceased to send contracts his way. He was hauled off
to Sachsenhausen after Kristallnacht, but released shortly afterward, and allowed to go to
work as an unskilled laborer in a shop, and ordered to keep to himself. As he insisted in a
later questionnaire, he did not keep to himself, and in fact took every opportunity to try to
influence the apprentices in the shop against the regime. For this, he claimed the status of
“illegal worker”—resister against the Nazi regime—for himself after the war. There is
no evidence that he received this recognition, which would have come with significant
material benefits.312
When he came back from the camp, it was with a severe diabetic condition, which
would eventually kill him. He and his wife were then subject to the usual deprivations:
their radio was taken away, their ration for coal was cut by 90%. In December of 1939,
the Muscatblatts were forced to move from their apartment into an overcrowded
“Judenhaus”. Margarete was offered her own apartment if she would leave Alfred. She
refused. From 1941, they were subject to frequent house searches by the Gestapo, and
their remaining possessions were taken away, including their typewriter, bicycle, electric
appliances, furs and carpets.
StAL Bezirkstag und Rat des Bezirkes Leipzig 15418—VdN file on Alfred and Margarete Muscatblatt.
Letter from AM to Kommunalabteilung, 6 February, 1946.
They were bombed out of their Judenhaus in April, 1943, were denied access to a
shelter as Jews, and tried to move into her brother’s empty apartment, but were
denounced. They ended up with six other families in an emergency kitchen [Notküchen].
In February, 1945, Alfred was designated for deportation to Theresienstadt, a trip his wife
later said they both knew he would not survive. They were able to save him from one
transport, but he was designated for the next.313 The end of the war came before that, and
saved his life.314
Alfred Muscatblatt and Richard Frank represented the kind of people who were
able to survive the war, and who began to reconstruct the Gemeinde afterward. Of the
four new leaders, only Muscatblatt was even slightly prominent due to his activism in the
prewar Gemeinde. These men survived because they had married gentiles, and because
they were lucky. They were not Zionists; they were more or less prominent and
successful businessmen, whose marriages to gentiles clearly marked them as people who
shared the ideal of integration. These men thought of themselves as Germans.
But, at the same time, they were also clearly self-identifying Jews. Muscatblatt’s
wife made the effort to convert, he was active in the Gemeinde, he advertised in the
Jewish directory, and he taught in the Lehrhaus. All four of the new leaders, whatever
their prewar commitment to the Gemeinde, had made the decision to take leadership roles
afterward. This mix of Jewish identity, integrationism, and some degree of prominence
Ibid., 25 May, 1949. Margarete reported after the war: “I immediately spoke to the Gestapo and begged
them not to send my husband—so sick from diabetes—back to the concentration camp, because he would
certainly not survive the transport. I had to repeat all of this in writing and attach a sworn statement, and
after six days of the most frightening commotion, the train left without him, and he was rescued for now.”
This is a clear reinforcement of Stoltzfus’ heroic image of the non-Jewish spouses of the Rosenstraße,
willing to risk their own lives in confrontation with the authorities on behalf of their Jewish spouses.
in business establish Frank and Muscatblatt as a sort of model for the kind of people who
would participate in the early reconstruction of the Jewish community after the war.
They were not the only ones, of course. Their great advantage as rebuilders lay in
their presence in the city throughout the war, or for most of it. Others came later who
would have a huge impact. Salo Looser and Fritz Grunsfeld, the future leaders of the
Gemeinde, were among those coming back from the camps. Both of them, especially
Looser, were politically motivated and had very strong antifascist credentials.
So did a number of Jews who came back in the period following liberation. Some
of them were motivated to come specifically to the Soviet zone, where their political
ideals would flourish under a government dedicated to anti-fascism. Some were
Communists who had been in exile: Alexander Abusch, later Culture Minister of the
GDR, Albert Norden, who would become a member of the state council of the GDR, and
Hermann Axen, later a member of the Politburo of the SED.
Along with them came Jewish German intellectuals devoted to the construction of
a democratic and socialist Germany: Anna Seghers, the writer, Helene Wiegel, the
actress, Leah Grundig, the graphic artist, Ernst Bloch, the philosopher and Hans Mayer,
the literary critic, the last two of whom took up positions at the University of Leipzig in
1948. Bloch stayed at the University of Leipzig until 1961 and the construction of the
Berlin Wall, after which he relocated to the Federal Republic and the University of
Tübingen. He was joined in 1963 by his friend Mayer, who went to work at the
Technical University in Hanover. Even some foreign Jews came, mostly from Poland,
ironically seeking refuge from anti-Semitism. Eugen Gollomb, later longtime chair of the
Leipzig Gemeinde, was one of these.315
It is difficult to generalize about the kinds of people who came to take part in the
construction of the new Germany. Some were businessmen who had been able to stay in
town. Some were prisoners of the Nazi regime who had returned. Some were old
political professionals, returned from exile in Russia or Mexico. What held them
together was less ideology, or even memory of what had happened, than optimism.
There was a startling amount of good will and hope granted to the GDR by those Jews
who came or stayed home. They seem largely to have believed that the Russian
occupiers and the new regime had their interests at heart, and were reasonable partners in
the reconstruction of a place for Jews in Germany. At first, the evidence seemed to
affirm their optimism.316
What these people were not, was Zionists. That might seem to go without saying.
There were certainly opportunities to go to Israel after the war, and many German Jews
took those opportunities, but these did not. They bought into an identity as Germans and
socialists, as well as Jews. Some of them had married gentiles. Some were religious, but
some were not, including Albert Norden, the son of a rabbi. This is worth pointing out.
The hard times still to come for Jews in Leipzig were based largely on charges of
Siegfried Hollitzer, “Die Juden in der SBZ und ihr Verhältnis zu Staat wie Kirche” in Judaica
Lipsiensia: zur Geschichte der Juden in Leipzig, herausgeben von der Ephraim-Carlebach-Stiftung,
Redaktion: Manfred Unger. Leipzig, 1994: Edition Leipzig, 218.
Lothar Mertens’ work is clear in this—until the “flight wave” in the early 1950s, cooperation between
state and Jews was more or less the order of the day. The point is also made in Karin Hartewig,
Zurückgekehrt: Jüdische Kommunisten in der DDR. Köln, 2000. Hartewig’s work is mainly about the
place of Jewish communists in the new regime, but she paints a picture in which traditional Marxist and
German ambivalence toward all Jews is reproduced in the DDR. In the early years, exemplified by
Wilhelm Pieck’s famous claim that the DDR could be a homeland for the Jews on a par with Israel, the new
regime was mostly benign toward its Jewish citizens. It is much more complicated than this, as Hartewig
points out, and reality did not always match up to rhetoric.
espionage on behalf of Israel, and much of the coming anti- Semitism was to be masked
as anti-Zionism. While the use of anti-Zionism to cover anti-Jewish actions against
genuine Zionists would be heinous enough, what was to come in 1952 and 1953 would
not even meet that low standard. These people were, by definition and by dint of the
choices they had made, distinctly not Zionists.
New Priorities
The first and in some ways the hardest problem was the restoration of Jewish
citizens to their former state of material well-being. This effort went through two stages.
The first, from the end of the war roughly through the establishment of the GDR,
concentrated on immediate concerns—a place to live, warm clothing, a place to pray.
This initial stage was marked by fairly close cooperation between the authorities and the
Jewish community. But once the immediate and institutional demands of the Gemeinde
had been met, and the question moved toward restitution to individuals, the state grew
less friendly and relations between the state and the Jewish community in Leipzig began
to suffer.
The first official communication between the refounded Gemeinde and the city
government was a request for an address where leaders of the Gemeinde could send a list
of things they wanted returned to their members, like apartments, radios, bicycles,
typewriters, to their members.317 Lists of families who needed homes, including three
members of the Vorstand, were prepared before the Gemeinde even had its own
stationery ready, on letterhead from a Nazi-era regional organization.318
SAL Stadtbezirksversammlung und Rat der Stadt Leipzig: 1945-1970 (1) Nr. 7868, 26 May, 1945.
Ibid., 7 May, 1945.
In June, the Gemeinde sent a set of demands, written in German and English, to
the city authorities. These demands set the whole program of Wiedergutmachung, or
restitution. These were the battles that would be fought for the next few years. Over
time, though, the debate changed, and cooperation turned into confrontation. The
straightforward tone of the demands, and the expectation that they would be met, lasted
for some time, but eventually that tone and those expectations faded away, to be replaced
by increasingly hostile legal action.
These demands were all economic: double rations for food and tobacco, the
immediate replacement of houses lost to aryanization or bombing, ideally via the
confiscation of Nazis’ houses. Stolen personal items—radios, jewels, furs—should be
paid for in cash. The Gemeinde itself wanted a starting credit of 100,000 RM, and
reminded the city that it had always received a state subsidy like every other religion, and
expected to do so again now. The most ironic demand, perhaps, was for new, preferential
ration cards, to compensate for the old ‘J’ cards.319
Within the week, the Gemeinde laid claim to the old synagogue in Keilstraße,
asking the city to dissolve the lease with the chemist who was there. The city found the
chemist another place to do business, but was asked several months later by the landlord
to convince the Gemeinde to pay the rent. The city ultimately compromised, in view of
the financial condition of the Gemeinde, and “the murder of thousands of your members”,
and agreed to pay the back rent, if the Gemeinde would then resume payments.320 The
Gemeinde later asked for the temporary donation of benches so that it could celebrate the
Ibid., 10 June, 1945.
Ibid, 16, 30 June, 24 October, 1945; 18 January, 1946.
high holidays; the benches were to come from the bomb shelters from which Jews had
been excluded only a few months earlier.321
Later in June, the Gemeinde asked permission to call for donations from all
Leipzigers in the city’s official newsletter. In a note to the military government, the
Gemeinde acknowledged the occupation’s position that restitution was for a German
government to decide, but in the interim said that they wanted help from “those who were
accomplices to the misery of the Jews”, that is, ordinary Leipzigers.
But the tone of collective guilt did not find its way into the appeal that was issued.
“Help sought: a shock regime, built on bloody terror, has collapsed.” It pointed out that
Jews were the first of the many victims of the regime, and closed with this appeal: “we
would be grateful if you would make it possible for us to help these people who were
barely able to escape the concentration camps and the inferno of the ghetto barracks, with
their lives. We believe that now you know [emphasis mine] the horror of the camps, and
hope that no one will be denied the requested aid.”322 The gap between the righteous
anger of the appeal to the military occupation and the more forgiving tone of communal
suffering in the notice to be published suggested a very acute sense of the political
realities of life in post-war Germany. Non-Jewish Leipzigers were in no mood to
consider themselves as accomplices to the murders of their neighbors in 1945, and the
leaders of the Gemeinde knew it.
The drive for restitution was generally not, however, about appeals to individual
Germans. Much more work was devoted to convincing the authorities to help Jewish
Leipzigers reclaim what was theirs. Housing had to be made available for individuals
LGA 319, 2 August, 1945.
SAL Stadtbezirksversammlung und Rat der Stadt Leipzig: 1945-1970 (1) Nr. 7868, 25 June, 1945.
within the Gemeinde—many Jewish homes were now occupied by prominent Nazis. The
Gemeinde sent a list of such homes to the city, including one occupied by the leading
local propaganda official, and another in which a holder of a high decoration of the
National Socialist party resided.323 The Gemeinde also made it their business to provide
temporary accommodations for refugees, as in the case of David Berger, a concentration
camp survivor on his way home to Bamberg to find relatives.324
Another prime concern was the restoration of Jewish cemeteries. The Gemeinde
had asked very early after its reestablishment for the restoration of the main cemetery on
Delitzscher Landstrasse, demolished by the Nazis.325 To its credit, the city government
ordered 100 men to the cemetery to clean it up.326 By December, 1946, the Gemeinde
announced that the cemetery had been restored, and noted the assistance of the city
The municipalgovernment was helpful in the early years after the war, although it
did not always act as Jewish citizens wanted. When 80 Jewish Leipzigers asked the city
for fur coats to keep them warm over the winter, on grounds that they had been forbidden
to own warm clothing under the Nazi regime, the reply was not very warm, either. The
city agreed, but only after recognized anti-fascists had been accommodated. “These furs
were not taken away from the Jews on political grounds, but solely because they were
Jews. On the whole, Jews cannot be seen as “anti-fascist”. They were, on the whole,
passive victims.”328 This tortured logic hinted at unpleasant things to come, in a rivalry
LGA 319, 12 July, 1945.
Ibid., 17 October, 1945.
SAL Stadtbezirksversammlung und Rat der Stadt Leipzig: 1945-1970 (1) Nr. 7868, 31 May, 1945.
Order from Stadtdirektor Ott, Ibid., 6 August, 1945.
LGA 484, “Tätigskeitberich des Vorstandes der Israelitischen ReligionsGemeinde zu Leipzig für die
Zeit der Wiederöffnung 15. Mai 1945 bis zum Schluss des Kalendarjahres 1946”.
Hollitzer, 223.
between “active anti-fascists” and “passive victims”. But in comparison with the Nazi
years, and with the era of the early 1950s, relations between the state and its Jewish
citizens were quite warm in these early days.
Cultural Conflict
But it is also clear that there were instances of popular anti- Semitism in the first
years after the war, in which the role of the authorities—whether Soviet or East
German—can only be described as erratic. In 1948, a play, “Rufer vor dem Tore”, was
withdrawn by the city theatre of Leipzig, following protests by the Gemeinde. The
Gemeinde wrote to the Soviet Administration of the city, complaining that the play, with
a Jewish leading character, reinforced negative images of Jews, and particularly of Jewish
refugees. The Gemeinde concluded that the play was “not recommended for our
contemporary anti-fascist state.”329 At the behest of authoritiest he play ended its run in
early April.
The author, K.G. Fischer-Föbus, issued a protest, addressed to the domestic and
foreign press, claiming that the SMAD had oppressed free artistic expression. The Berlin
magazine “Theaterdienst: Informationsblätter für Bühne, Film und Musik” investigated
the author’s complaint, and debunked his assertion that the SMAD had ordered the
revocation of the play. The magazine asserted that the play had been withdrawn due to
public protests, most prominently from the Gemeinde. Unnamed “representatives of
public life in Leipzig” also argued that the play “called forth an anti-Semitic- Nazi
reaction in part of the audience.”
LGA, 314, 2 March, 1948.
The magazine described the lead character, Simon Wolf, as a portrayal of Jews in
line with those of the Nazis in their anti-Semitic plays and films, and asked “what kind of
creative freedom can the speech in “Rufer vor dem Tore” be? Of the freedom to create
anti-S emitic plays?” “Theaterdienst” concluded that the methods of the author in
protesting the withdrawal of the play were not democratic in nature, and were more
suited to the Nazis and their reactionary successors. Interestingly, the magazine was
forwarded to the Gemeinde by the SMAD.330 This incident shows that there was still an
active remembrance of pre-1945 images of Jews, and that the state in its several forms,
and in this case the Soviet occupation, could play the role of ally to the Jews just as
comfortably as it could that of their persecutor.
Legal Action
One of the most striking expressions of good will by the state in Leipzig toward
its Jewish citizens was its energetic prosecution of their former oppressors. Nazi
criminals were brought to trial in Leipzig with the cooperation of the Jewish community
and with their participation. Many of the trials pointed out the degree to which
persecution of Jews had been a popular activity. The existence of the trials and their
outcomes tend, though not without exception, to show a genuine attempt on the part of
the state to redress the wrongs done to Jews, if not to address wholesale popular antiSemitism.
“aber—so wurde gefragt—von welcher Schaffensfreiheit kann die Rede beim “Rufen vor dem Tore”
sein? Von der Freiheit der Schaffung antisemitischer Stücke?” “Theaterdienst: Informationsblätter für
Bühne, Film und Musik”, 7 June, 1948, in LGA, 314.
The trials began in earnest in 1946.331 In July, four men were convicted of crimes
during Kristallnacht. “B”, a truck driver, was convicted of leading the burning of the
Gottschedstrasse synagogue, showing up with 20 liters of gasoline. He was sentenced to
10 years in prison. Wilhelm Kempeni, a former KPD member who had joined the
NSDAP in 1933, was convicted of participating in the looting of the synagogue, where he
had commented “The Jewish swine could still get in a position to take our money”. He
then went to the Jewish cemetery, beat up the cemetery inspector, and stole the cashbox.
He was sentenced to ten years. Hans Straube, an SA man since 1930, was convicted of
joining with Kempeni in vandalizing the cemetery, after which he burned the inspector’s
house and the Festhalle. He was sentenced to 15 years.332
In October of 1946, Fritz Müller was convicted of denouncing a Lutheran
Mischling fellow employee, Gerhard Rieß, with whom he had had a fight. Rieß died in
Auschwitz in December of the next year. Müller was sentenced to five years in prison.333
The following month, “H”, an assembly supervisor, was convicted of having denounced a
friend of his wife for being critical of the 1938 pogrom: “What would you say if your
workplace was burned?…first the Reichstag burns, and now the synagogues. Is there any
law left in our country?” “H” denounced her to the Gestapo, and she sat in jail for a
month and a half. “H” was sentenced to two years in prison.334
In June of 1947, a salesman of fruit oils named Leo Tuscher was convicted of
having denounced a competitor. Tuscher and Max Schall had been in a feud since 1922
The trials were held in the Landgericht, a reconstituted court roughly equivalent to a state district court.
All of the trials mentioned were held under the auspices of the Soviet Occupation, which lasted as the
sovereign political authority in Leipzig from the turnover of authority from American liberating forces in
June of 1945 until the founding of the GDR in October of 1949.
StAL Landgericht Leipzig 7863, 3 July, 1946.
Ibid, 18 October, 1946.
Ibid., 25 November, 1946.
over the quality of some lemon oil Schall had sold. In 1941, Tuscher had confronted
Schall, who was married to a gentile, as to why he was not wearing the star. Schall
replied that “Hüten Sie sich, einmal kommt die Zeit!” (“Watch out, the time is coming!”,
meaning Hitler can’t last forever).
Tuscher denounced him to the Gestapo, which picked Schall up in January of
1941. He was told that he would not see his family again, and was sent to Sachsenhausen
and then to Auschwitz, where he died in November. Tuscher insisted that he could not
have known the Gestapo would do this. The court did not agree, and he was sentenced to
ten years in prison and ten years loss of civil rights.335
An opportunity to confront mass popular anti- Semitism seemed to present itself to
the authorities in May of 1947. Sixteen defendants went on trial over riots the day after
Kristallnacht in the neighborhood of Neu-Gohlis. After meeting at a partyOrtsgruppe
assembly on the morning of the tenth, at which they discussed the murder of vom Rath
and the events of the previous day, they proceeded to Neu-Gohlis. There, they marched
through the streets, demanding that Jews present themselves, and breaking down the
doors of those who refused. About 90 people were ultimately herded into a gymnasium
at a nearby Catholic high school. Most were released a few hours later. A few were
immediately transported to a concentration camp. More were arrested again in the next
few days and sent to camps or to prison. Of those, several died.
The court went to great lengths to point out how disappointed the Nazis had been
in the small number of ordinary Germans who had taken up their call to abuse Jews
during Kristallnacht and its aftermath. Rather than take the mass of participants to task
and deal with the lingering legacy of German anti- Semitism, the court insisted that “the
Ibid., 18 June, 1947.
action against the Jews was broken off for the time being in the morning of November
10, and indeed on orders from higher up, because the mass of people held back and the
action did not become, as Goebbels had hoped, a demonstration (“Kundgebung”) of the
entire German people; many more in broad circles of the German people spoke out
against it.”336
This is no doubt a generous interpretation of the actions of the German people,
either as a whole, or in the city of Leipzig. Why would the authorities say this? It was at
the heart of the ruling mythology of the GDR that the mass of Germans were essentially
good working class people and had been duped by the Nazis. The SED traced its roots to
the German Communist Party, of course, and both of those parties claimed to be the
spokesman of the majority of Germans. To admit the culpability of the German people as
a whole would have run counter to the notion, important to the leaders of party and state,
that the German people and working class, as a whole and through their representative
parties, were a progressive force.
So, it was very uncommon to hear an East German leader discuss the guilt of the
German people as a whole, while in the West, political leaders began to grapple with the
problems of collective guilt (albeit not very successfully until much later).337 As far as
the East German leadership was concerned, the Nazi period was an aberration, detached
from true popular sentiment, and the leading role of the German working class among the
people was the historical rule. To admit otherwise would have been to compromise the
logic of the ruling party. As time would prove by the early 1950s, this logic would
eventually lead to the historical dismissal of anti-Jewish activity altogether. For the time
Ibid., 10 May, 1947.
The comparison between the two is very effectively laid out in Jeffery Herf, Divided Memory. The Nazi
Past in the Two Germanies. Cambridge, MA: 1997.
being, though, this was a subtle prevarication, within a relationship between Jews in
Leipzig and the leadership of the DDR that was mostly positive. The willingness of the
courts to go after Germans who had committed crimes against their fellow citizens of
Jewish heritage was a sign of generally good ties between the state and its Jewish
One curious sign did come in this early period of judicial cooperation, albeit in a
major trial whose outcome was still positive from the point of view of Jewish victims. A
man named Gustav Melzer, who had been a prominent lawyer in town as well as a city
councilman, was tried in 1948 on charges of having written books that were sympathetic
to Nazism, and hateful to Jews, as well as having participated in anti- Semitic activity as a
lawyer. Melzer was a complicated figure. He had been a founder of the Stahlhelmin
1919, and had led the organization in Leipzig from 1924 until he was expelled in 1926
for working against that body’s opposition to the republic. He had been the local leader
of the right-nationalist Alldeutscher Verband from 1920 until it was dissolved in 1933.
From 1929 to 1933, he had been the leader of the right-nationalist “Volksrechtspartei” in
the city council.
But many people had been involved in rightist politics, and in fact Melzer had
never become a member of the Nazi party, or of the organization of National Socialist
lawyers, or given the Hitler salute, according to the findings of the court. He had been
held by the Gestapo for a month and a half in 1939 “because of his oppositional attitude.”
He had even been a member of the Goerdelerkreis, the circle of conservative opposition
to Hitler that formed around the mayor of Leipzig. Yet, he had also been an anti-Semite,
and had made anti- Semitic arguments in his books, including his most inflammatory,
“The Nationalist State of the Germans” [1926], in which he argued against liberalism,
democracy and socialism, and for a “Führerstaat”. In that book he insisted that
“Germany must contend with the Jews, if it wishes to endure.” He called for a savior for
the race: “Germany needs a Siegfried today, who will save her from the dragon “Jew”.
Tomorrow it will be too late, and the poison from the dragon will spread through the
body of the German people.” He also demanded euthanasia for those “unworthy of life”.
This was pretty rough stuff, as were his actions as a divorce lawyer in 1935. He
represented Frau Frieda Lenhoff in proceedings against her husband, and based his case
on the infidelity of the husband. Not stopping there, he pointed out that the third party
was a gentile, while the Herr Lenhoff was a Jew, whose real name was Lewinsohn.338
What separates these proceedings from other more straightforward trials of
persecutors of Jews—and might hint at changes in the official relationship between Jews
and the new state—was the decision of the lead judge in the court to remove himself from
the proceedings because he was a Jew. The appellate body to seem to agree with his
decision. Hölzer, the Chairman of the Court, made the decision to recuse himself from
Melzer’s trial because “as a Jew, whose race and heritage had been attacked, he did not
believe it possible to form an objective opinion ”. The Senate of the higher regional court
hastened to assert that it believed that it was possible for a Jew to form an objective
opinion, but accepted Hölzer’s withdrawal on the grounds that he had had dealings with
the defendant in the past. 339
It would have been difficult for Hölzer not to know the defendant—both men
were active in local politics and jurisprudence. The trial went on, under a substitute
StAL Landgericht Leipzig 7784, Strafsache Dr. RA Gustav Melzer, 5 April, 1948.
Ibid., 27 February, 1948.
judge, and Melzer was found guilty of “common” support of the regime. He was not
found guilty of higher-grade support because his works were distributed to a small
audience, mainly former Stahlhelm men. He was fined 10,000 Marks, along with the
forfeiture of two of his seven properties and two years in a work camp. The relative
leniency of the sentence was attributed to his age and physical condition. The seizure of
his property was only right, according to the court; he should contribute with a portion of
his wealth to “Wiedergutmachung”.340
The trial was a public sensation. The VVN—the organization responsible for
representing the interests of victims of the Nazi regime—wrote the judge, asking that the
trial be moved from the main hall of the courthouse to a larger auditorium, reflecting the
VVN’s recent resolution to “do everything to see that the Melzer trial take place with the
greatest possible public participation.”341 A decision was made to keep the trial where it
was, due to expense, but tickets were given out, and the judge ended up asking the police
for units to deal with the crowds that showed up.342
When tickets were made available, the VVN requested half of them.343 It is not
clear whether they got the tickets. Two were requested by another semi-official
agency—the information division of the local SED.344 It is clear from the public interest
in the trial—Melzer had been a prominent man, and his crimes had clearly touched a
nerve—that it presented an opportunity to engage in some useful public education.
Certainly the SED and the VVN felt that way. But why was a decision made to allow the
Jewish judge slated to hear the case to recuse himself?
Ibid., 5 April, 1948.
Ibid., 1 March, 1948.
Ibid., 25 March, 1948.
Ibid., 10 March, 1948.
Ibid., 9 March, 1948.
Even if we take at face value the assertion that it was Hölzer’s idea to recuse
himself this case was clearly of interest to the local powers of the SED, and no serious
decision would have been made without their input. At the very least, the SED believed
that some harm could come of a Jew presiding over this trial. Whether they were worried
about public reaction to the sight of a Jew taking vengeance on a German anti-Semite, or
engaging in a kind of anti-Semitism of their own, the fact is that the SED oversaw a
decision to exclude Hölzer from the process.
Restitution—with limits
The decision, explicitly asserted, to take from Melzer and give to his Jewish
victims was part of a continuing debate about restitution. Early after the war, the
Gemeinde had met with success in reclaiming much of its communal property. But the
issue grew stickier over time, as individuals began to demand the return of what had been
taken from them. For the time being, though, at least until the early 1950s, the state was
still cooperative. We can see this in the publishing industry. Leipzig was and is a major
center for publication, bearing the honorific title “City of Books”, or “Buchstadt”.
During the war, many of the more important publishing and book distribution houses,
including C.F. Peter and Thalia music publishing, were seized through the aryanisation
process, one in which avarice and the seamy side of the racial dictatorship were on
prominent display.345
Josef Ardel was a bookseller in Leipzig. He did a lot of business in eastern
Europe, traveling to Sofia on occasion. During the Hitler period, his business was taken
The latest work on this topic is from Frank Bajohr: "Aryanisation" in Hamburg ; the economic exclusion
of Jews and the confiscation of their property in Nazi Germany. New York: 2002.
away from him in the process of “aryanization”. By 1941, the firm had been dissolved.
But in 1949, Ardel applied to the new authorities for permission to reopen. Three months
later, Ardel was back in business as sole proprietor.346 The process worked more or less
as it was supposed to, from the perspective of the Jewish victim.
Thalia was a publishing house for music and theatre. It was taken away from its
Jewish owner and passed through several hands until settling in those of Rudolf Erdmann
in 1943. Erdmann was able to hang onto it until 1948, despite widespread knowledge of
how he had come by the business. He had answered questionnaires about his holdings,
had admitted to being a member of the Reichsmusikkammer, Fachschaft Musikverleger
[the Music Retailers’ trade group of the Reich’s Music Chamber]. In early 1947, he was
asked, finally, whether he had a permit, and by the next year was out of the business. It is
not clear whether Thalia made it back to its rightful owner, but Erdmann faced criminal
charges in 1952, when he was convicted of contributing to the persecution of the Jews by
buying the business for much less than it was worth, and hanging on to it until 1948. His
sentence is not in the files—the note from the court to the editor of the professional
booksellers’ newsletter said that interested people could come to the courthouse to find
out. The reasons for his sentencing were withheld on “grounds of state security.”347
C.F. Peters was a prominent music publishing house owned by a Jew, Dr. Henri
Hinrichsen. In 1939 it was transferred to a gentile German, Dr. Johannes Petschull. The
contract allowed for the transfer of 12,000 Pounds Sterling to Dr. Hinrichsen, who had by
StAL 12405—Börsenverein der deutschen Buchhändler zu Leipzig—Josef Ardel, 17 August, 1938; 15
December, 1949, 9 March, 1950.
StAL 19328—Börsenverein der deutschen Buchhändler zu Leipzig—Thalia Musikverlag, Rudolf
Erdmann, 25 April, 1944; 7 January, 1947; cutting from Leipziger Volkszeitung, 7 May, 1952; 28 June,
then left the country.348 C.F. Peters was given back to its rightful owner in 1947. But, it
was seized by the state in 1952 and made into a “Volkseigenener Betrieb”, a nationalized
enterprise.349 This happened to other business owners, to be sure. But the timing—1952
was to be a peak of government hostility against East German Jews—brings into question
the possibility that the nationalization was not a coincidence.
Ernst Eulenburg was a publisher of music, too, and was reasonably well known.
Enough so, at any rate, that when the new gentile owner, Horst Sander, asked to change
the name of the firm, he met with some resistance from the authorities on the grounds
that the old name was useful in attracting overseas customers. After the war, the business
was run by a manager, Erich Otto, in place of Sander, who was missing and later turned
out to have been killed. In 1948, the firm told the financial authorities that a transferal of
the business back to Eulenburg was in progress, and that after it was complete, the name
would revert back from Horst Sander to Ernst Eulenburg.350
The next year the firm’s publishing permit was revoked, and only restored when it
was made clear that the case was still in process.351 Two years later, it was still
pending.352 The following spring, the local government asserted that nothing could
happen with the case until a general restitution law was passed.353 That October, notice
was given that the firm no longer existed, that it had ceased to operate when Erich Otto
had fled the country with his family, moving to Stuttgart, where he had opened the
business under the same name, a name to which he was not entitled.354
StAL 4100—Musikverlag C.F. Peters, 26 October, 1940.
Hollitzer, 225.
StAL 12262—Börsenverein der deutschen Buchhändler zu Leipzig—Sander, Horst., 12 October, 1948.
Ibid., 19 April, 1949.
Ibid., 2 May, 1951.
Ibid., 27 March, 1952.
Ibid., 12 October, 1952; 11 June, 1956.
The case points out several of the salient facts of restitution in the GDR. One was
that individuals had a harder time reclaiming their property than groups did. Another was
that physical presence in the country was crucial. Eulenburg’s chances were greatly
reduced because he was in London. The most typical reality was the refusal of the
government to do anything until a law on restitution was passed. This was to become the
great recurring refrain of the drive for restitution.
We can conclude that the early years of the postwar era were distinguished by a
degree of relatively humane cooperation between the new German authorities and the
remnants of the Jewish community. Though there was certainly still evidence of popular
anti-Semitism, and the reluctance of the state to deal with the broader history of antiSemitism was unsettling, the new East German state did not itself seem to be an antiSemitic one.
But this would change dramatically in the early 1950s. Demands for restitution
would be met then not with indifference or pleas for patience but with open hostility.
Those Jewish Leipzigers who had come back to town because they believed in their
Germanness, or because they believed in socialism, were soon to be sadly disappointed.
Chapter 5: The New Terror—the purge of 1952-53
The years 1952 and 1953 witnessed a radical shift in the relationship between the
Jewish citizens of the DDR and their leaders in the state and party. Former tendencies
toward cooperation and tolerance, with a measure of co-optation of Jews for political
purposes, were replaced by a barely concealed and growing hostility, a willingness to
sacrifice those relationships in favor of the use of Jewish citizens as scapegoats. The
context in which these phenomena took place was of several sorts: this shift occurred at a
time of increasing paranoia and anti-Semitism in the USSR and—not coincidentally, to
be sure—the rest of the socialist countries in the Soviet sphere of influence. Also, it
happened concurrently with the emergence of east-west hostilities as the defining fact of
life in European politics. Finally, this was a time during which the upper levels of the
SED sought to ground the legitimacy of their leadership in their imagined history as the
martyred opposition to Nazism. This section will examine all of these forces in turn. To
give a hint at the direction of the theme: the purges of 1952-53 happened in a Europe
riven by Cold War, in the context of Stalinism, and in the shadow of German history.
Slansky and Show Trials
It would hardly be original to point out that the period of the early 1950s was a time
of profound governmental paranoia in the socialist nations of eastern Europe,
accompanied by accusations of treason, wrecking, and espionage. In fact, these were the
kinds of accusations faced by identified opponents of the regime in the GDR both before
and after the show trial of Rudolf Slansky, the Jewish former General Secretary of the
Communist Party of Czechoslovakia. Whether the accused were Jehovah’s Witnesses355
or black marketeers356, they could expect allegations of treason, sabotage, and service to
the Western security apparatus. What distinguished the Slansky trial was the high
position of the accused, and, especially, the fact that the leading defendant was a Jew.
The Slansky trial set off a series of anti- Semitic actions in several countries of the eastern
The obvious importance of larger, pan-Stalinist causes to these events is related to the
doctors’ trial in Moscow. Generally described as Stalin’s last spasm of terror, the plot
was an accusation of sabotage against some of the physicians in the Kremlin, alleging
that some of the doctors were in league with western intelligence, seeking to injure the
health of the leading figures of the Soviet Union.
Any straight causal relationship posited between Moscow’s demands—expressed
through the doctors’ plot—and central European responses like the Slansky trial and the
German purge is problematic, not least since the Slansky trial predated the doctors’ plot
by at least a month. This discrepancy suggests that there was more to these expressions
of anti-Semitism than a simple command from Moscow, and in fact there is evidence of
building tensions in Germany well before not only the doctors’ plot, but the Slansky trial
In addition to the context provided by the Slansky trial and other anti- Semitic spasms,
it is worthwhile to remember that this was a time generalized political show trials and
purges in the GDR. Most of these were accusations of sabotage and economic crimes.
Leipziger Volkszeitung., 21 October, 1952. Page 2.
Ibid., 16 December, 1952. Page 1.
Mario Keßler especially asserts a close tie between the Slansky trial and the wave of anti-Semitism in
the GDR. No doubt, there was a connection, but the evidence here indicates that there were also causes
having more to do with events in East Germany than just the pan-Stalinist context. Keßler, Die SED und
die Juden: zwischen Repression und Toleranz. Berlin, 1995. 85.
On 1 March, 1952, the owner and top officials of the Mende glass work in Leipzig were
sentenced to terms ranging from 2 to 6 years for sabotage and dealing with a cartel,
punishable under order 160 of the SMAD, and article 14 of the GDR constitution. The
charges arose from the company’s continued contact with companies in the Federal
In June, Alfred Mahn and Uhlich Zimm, two workers in their twenties, were
sentenced to 8 years in prison each for distributing literature critical of the government.
This charge evolved into one of sabotage and espionage, though, as the two were accused
of being in the pay of the American security agency, preparing to tear down telephone
poles and burn centralized machine repair and distribution centers. The report said that
the two had been led down the road to crime by listening to the American radio station
RIAS, taken in by its “systematic war propaganda.”359
In August, the Leipzig state court sentenced 24 people, including 5 who had fled to
the Federal Republic, to terms ranging from 2 to 15 years for smuggling 460 textile
machines to the west, from 1949-51, in order to “found a new textile industry, which
would benefit the west German army above all.” [this despite the lack of a West German
army for several years to come.]360 These were just in Leipzig. In Dresden, Halle, and of
course Berlin, East German citizens faced accusations and trials, some of which ended in
life terms and even death.
Over the course of April and May, 1952—that is several months before signs of the
worst anti-Semitic activity to the east—there was a trial in Leipzig of 3 immigrant Jews
on charges of black market activity. The trio, Robinsohn, Schapiro, and Schröder, were
Ibid., 30 April, 1952.
Ibid., 10 June, 1952.
Ibid., 7 August, 1952.
the last of twenty “stateless people of the Jewish faith”361 charged with moving large
amounts of illicit tobacco, cocoa and coffee. The accused had been part of a smuggling
ring, moving up to 15 million cigarettes, eventually broken up by Soviet authorities. All
three had been victims of the Nazis. All three had been held in detention since 1950,
except for Robinsohn, who had been in jail since 1949. The leader of the group, Josef
Bodak, had been a partisan leader near Bialistok. These were Jews, but they were held
on charges of illicit economic activity like many others. Was there something different
about their case?
The Jews of Leipzig certainly seemed to think so. Robinsohn, and then later
Schapiro, received supplemental food from the Gemeinde while inprison, as early as
December, 1950.362 The two, and especially Robinsohn, became something of a cause
celebre within the Gemeinde, requesting and receiving visits from Cantor Werner Sander
and gifts of clothing and cigarettes on birthdays, and matzos at Passover.363
Of less immediate but perhaps more significant use to Robinsohn was the assumption
of his legal defense by Fritz Grunsfeld, by this time perhaps the most prominent figure in
the Leipzig Jewish community. Grunsfeld was in correspondence with Robinsohn from
at least April, 1951, answering his inquiries about his case, and forwarding some of his
requests to the Gemeinde directors.364 It was Grunsfeld who raised the issue of antiSemitism in the courtroom.
Everyone involved seemed to recognize that something important or at least sensitive
was happening. Several representatives from the VVN observed the proceedings, and the
Staatsarchiv Leipzig [StAL] IV/5/01/523. 15 May, 1952.
Leipzig Gemeinde Archive, 352, 27 December, 1950
Ibid., 13 April, 1951.
Ibid., 13 April, 6 June, 1951.
judge recognized that from the beginning, “due to an understandable feeling of mistrust,
the accused were strongly predisposed against the court, despite thorough
instructions.”365 The judge recognized that not only the very long period of detention
suffered by the defendants, but the realities of the Hitler period, meant that a German
court trying these Jews was a tricky business.
The defendants certainly recognized this, too. Presiding Judge Pfifferling put it this
way in a report to the VVN: “The accused therefore only partly confessed and kept
seeking to place the blame for their charges on anti-Semitism.”366 Not only the
defendants, but Fritz Grunsfeld and the Chairman of the Leipzig Gemeinde, Salo Looser,
who was there as an observer from the VVN, both cried foul. Judge Pfifferling wrote
“The court had the impression that they [the defendants] were strengthened in this
[impression of anti- Semitism] by Dr. Grunsfeld and Comrade Loser [sic]. An ill-advised
remark by state attorney Uhlmann, referring to the defendants as being of the Jewish race,
was construed by Dr. Grunsfeld as an anti-Semitic remark, with which he wanted to
prove the prejudice of the judicial organs. This is unthinkable, because as Dr. Grunsfeld
knows, Uhlmann is himself a recognized victim of the Nazi regime. Comrade Looser
conducted himself similarly.”367
The court, in rejecting the charges based on the resume of the accused antiSemite as a victim of Nazism, was pursuing the basic rhetorical strategy of the SED: It
was by definition impossible that they could be seen as anti- Semitic, or fascist in any
way, because they were the representatives, and indeed in many cases the individuals,
who suffered under and fought against the Nazis. Beyond this basic defensive posture,
StAL, IV/5/01/523, 39-40, 15 May, 1952.
the court went so far as to blame the defendants’ crimes for fanning a potential new wave
of anti-Semitism, as well as jeopardizing the GDR’s relationship with the USSR and
weakening the development of the GDR’s economic structure.368
This was clearly a national issue as well, involving not only the Jewish leadership of
Leipzig, but also the leadership of the Jews in the GDR, in the person of Julius Meyer,
president of the Verband der Jüdischen Gemeinde in der DDR [Association of Jewish
Communities in the German Democratic Republic, the national umbrella organization].
Meyer, attending in his role as a leader in the VVN, was present at the trial, along with
Looser and Grunsfeld [the latter, incidentally, was Vice-President of the Verband]
Meyer, like both Looser and Grunsfeld, was an emblem of early Jewish-state
cooperation, a member of the SED, who later fled the country along with the Leipzig
This case is interesting, in that it well illustrates the regime’s objectives as they were
often pursued by the courts. The goals were political (the maintenance of ties to
Moscow), economic (the development of industrial capacity, and a concomitant frenzy of
trials for economic crimes), and ideological (the establishment of the legitimacy of the
SED government, based on its historical position in regard to the Nazi past). At the same
time, it provides ample evidence, well before the Slansky episode and the rest of the East
European anti- Semitic purges, that the Jews of Leipzig, through their leadership, were
expressing real concern over what they considered to be official anti- Semitism. The
question is how does anti- Semitism fit into the list of motivations?
The Rhetoric of Philosemitism and the West
It is certainly the case that a kind of philosemitism—or at least accusations of antiSemitism against identified enemies—was a staple of GDR discourse in the period
leading up to the Slansky affair. The most important use of such pronouncements was
almost always negative and comparative—that is to say, that East German philosemitism
in this period served as a mechanism for pointing out that their Germany was the one that
had learned the lessons of the Nazi era, the one that represented the victims and
opponents of fascism, and, crucially, that the FRG had not learned these lessons. In order
for the GDR to be seen as the hero in the inter-German conflict over legitimacy, it was
necessary to paint the FRG, and its ally, the USA, as the villain, and attitudes and actions
toward Jews, at least at a visible level, served that purpose.
This policy can be clearly seen in the Leipziger Volkszeitung in the early 1950s. In
January 1952, one could read an article in the LVZ proclaiming that 354,159 Israelis had
signed a petition for the conclusion of a final settlement in Germany between the five
major powers, a call that echoed Stalinist policy.369 This use of Jews as justification for
Soviet and GDR policy was mirrored in a series of official pronouncements that
designated the FRG and its allies as fascists.
In November of that year, just ten days before its readers heard of the Slansky trial,
the LVZ announced a major commemoration of the 14th anniversary of Kristallnacht.
Participants included “hundreds of Leipzigers, members of the VVN, and of the Jewish
community.” The participants marched to the Jewish cemetery, to “mark the fall of the
victims of Nazi barbarism in that sacred site.” A circular sent to “progressive
organizations” from the VVN made the intentions of the rally clear: to combat tendencies
LVZ, in StAL, 16 January, 1952.
toward a new fascism from American world imperialism, above all in West Germany.
The denunciation of Americans and West Germans as fascists came immediately
following an uncharacteristic description of Kristallnacht as an event affecting Jews.
Usually, Kristallnacht—if it was discussed at all—was talked about in the context of a
larger, more significant attack on socialists, and had nothing to do with the larger,
socialist-minded population of Leipzig. More in character was the circular’s insistence
that the pogrom came only after “eine grosse angelegte Provokation” [a large-scale
provocation] from the Nazis, emphasizing the agents in brown, rather than the proletariat
of Leipzig.370
The march was at once a memorialization and a warning against racial hatred and
war. Salo Looser, along with Hans Siegewasser from the local leadership of the
National Front, spoke to the crowd of the equality of all races and peoples, and of the
debt all peoples owed to the Soviet Union. The speakers emphasized that the struggle
continued, notably against the Ku Klux Klan and the American Legion, both of which
were, they said, successors of bloody fascism.
The use of Jewish sites, Jewish speakers, and commemoration of events affecting
Jews to justify the positions and legitimacy of the East German ruling party was
exemplified by the slogan on the poster announcing the rally: “Rassenhetze ist Hetze
gegen die Sowjetunion” [Racial agitation is agitation against the Soviet Union].371 Racial
hatred was not something to be combated—or even remembered—on its own terms, but a
tool for appreciating the legitimacy of the East German ruling party, and a focus for
hostility toward the western allies. The story concluded with a Thälmann Pioneer [the
StAL, IV/5/01/523, 30 October, 1952.
StAL, IV/5/01/523.
SED’s organization for elementrary-age children] thanking the government for its wise
policy, which guaranteed racial equality, and the passage by the assembled of a resolution
calling for the liberation of the Rosenbergs from the “fascist, anti- Semitic USA
The Rosenbergs provided a powerful conduit for criticism of America on antiracist
lines in the days around the Slansky affair. Nowhere is there any sign that the editors of
the LVZ, or those above them, appreciated the irony of this juxtaposition. On the 28th of
October, 1952, the LVZ carried a denunciation of the US justice system, describing the
FBI as “the American Gestapo”, and claiming that the true grounds of the “fascist, antiSemitic” case against them was the “Kreuzzug” [crusade] by the American warmongers
[Kriegstreiber] “against all communists and democrats”.373 Two days later, the paper
called for the rescue of the Rosenbergs, and the Jewish Professor Hermann Budzislawski
of the University of Leipzig (soon to be Karl-Marx-Universität) asserted that “All
America knows that Ethel and Julius Rosenberg are no spies, but honorable people, who
must be murdered as victims of the increasing “Faschisierung” [becoming fascist] of the
USA, in order to intimidate [einzuschüchtern] the fighters for peace in America.”374
Nor were the LVZ’s denunciations of the western allies as fascists limited to the
Rosenberg affair. In early 1952, the paper reported that Senator Eastland wished to build
concentration camps for the imprisonment of “all progressive Americans”.375 In April of
that year, Leipzigers were told that General Hays and his clique of “khaki browns”
LVZ, 12 November, 1952.
Ibid., 28 October, 1952.
Ibid., 30 October, 1952.
Ibid., 25 January, 1952.
wished to “begin a new mass murder.”376 Perhaps most grotesque was the
characterization of an alleged US massacre in Korea as “the American Auschwitz”:
“whoever still doubts that the USA-Imperialists have taken over as the heir to Hitler
Fascism and have even surpassed it must now recognize: the brutal actions against
unarmed Korean and Chinese POW’s on Koje island are a repetition of the Nazi crimes at
Auschwitz.” [Wer bisher daran geweifelt haben sollte, daß die USA-Imperialisten das
verbrecherische Erbe des Hitler-Faschismus übernommen haben und noch überbieten,
muß jetzt erkennen: Die brutalen Aktionen gegen wehrlose koreanische und chinesiche
Kriegsgefangene auf der Insel Koje sind eine Wiederholung der Naziverbrechen von
The point of the description of the western allies and the FRG as fascist was clearly to
bolster the legitimacy of the SED and the government of the GDR as the successors of
the opponents to and victims of Nazism. To support the SED was to support a defense
against the return of fascism. In a speech entitled “Learn from the Heroes of the
Antifascist Resistance”, Wilhelm Pieck warned the faithful on the fifth anniversary of the
VVN that they had to work against “every effort to organize a new fascist terror regime
and against the preparation and pursuit of a new war.” Julius Meyer, President of the
Verband der Juden in der DDR, was one of the featured speakers, and his presence lent
the imprimatur of the DDR’s Jewish community to that regime’s attempts to paint its
western rivals into a corner of revanchism, if not fascism.378
The use of Jews as a rhetorical device by the regime to label their capitalist rivals as
fascists was unsavory in and of itself. But it was also the preface to much worse
Ibid., 24 April, 1952.
Ibid., 15 June, 1952.
Ibid., 22 February, 1952.
developments to come. For the moment, Jews were a useful tool, a club with which to
beat the west. But by late 1952, Jews were something else. Jews in Leipzig and in all of
East Germany became not an aid but a hindrance to the use of the fascist past to
legitimize the communist government. The needs of the state shifted from basing their
right to rule on opposition to the Nazis to placing themselves in a tradition that most
Germans could relate to, and a language of anti- Semitism was useful. At the same time,
the leaders of the SED needed to play to their most important constituency, in Moscow—
Jews were an enemy Moscow had already recognized. A key term, as it had been before
the war, was Zionism.
The Anti-Zionist Campaign
A series of purges of Jews in 1952 and 1953 swept through Eastern Europe. In
Russia, in Czechoslovakia, in Hungary and in the German Democratic Republic, Jewish
citizens, some of them highly placed in the state and ruling party, faced persecutions,
criminal charges, show trials and death. Certainly, this phenomenon must be seen in the
context of larger international trends, but the case of East Germany raises some questions
about national specificity and the degree to which this was a Stalinist trend or one that
also reflected German traditions of anti- Semitism.
The eastern European context should be addressed first. The inauguration of the antiSemitic purges came in November, 1951 in Prague, where Rudolf Slansky, Jewish former
Secretary General of the Czech Communist party was put on trial, along with 13 other codefendants, including the former foreign minister and several deputy ministers. The
charges included treason against the Czechoslovak people by forming an espionage
center in the service of the USA. The accused also faced charges of trying to disrupt the
construction of socialism by sabotage and trying to weaken the unity of the Czechs and
Slovaks. Ultimately, it was alleged that the Slansky band was trying to weaken CzechSoviet friendship and return Czechoslovakia to the capitalist camp.379 These were
accusations that would reappear in East German trials.
More importantly, the whole affair assumed a tone of intolerance regarding Jews that
would lead to the emigration of many, including leaders of the national and local Jewish
communities. To what extent did the hostilities around the Slansky affair and its
aftermath in the German Democratic Republic represent a continuation of a specifically
German anti- Semitism? Or, to put it another way: what place did these hostilities
between Jews and the state in East Germany occupy in a larger Eastern European
The initial state reaction to the Slansky affair can best be read in two sources: the
state-controlled press and the internal communications of the SED. The press, in its
Leipzig daily, the Leipziger Volkszeitung, changed its coverage as the story unfolded.
The first mention of the story, on page two of the edition of 22 November, 1952, was a
straightforward description of the trial, with some unsurprising allegations. There was a
list of the accused, and of the charges against them [“der Hochverrats, der Spionage,
Sabotage, und des militärischen Verrats.” “High treason, espionage, sabotage, and
military treason”]. The correspondent noted that the courtroom had been filled with the
“Vertretern der Werktätigen sowie von in- und ausländischen Journalisten”
[representatives of the working class, as well as domestic and foreign journalists] since
well before the proceedings began. The general tone was like that of other show trials of
Leipziger Volkszeitung, 22 November, 1952. Page 2.
the period—the rhetoric would not surprise anyone who has read accounts of those trials
or even the short references to them above:
“The accused are shown to be traitors and enemies of the Czechoslovakian
people, of the people’s democratic regime, and of socialism, and of having
formed a subversive center of conspiracy in the service of the USA-imperialists.
Further, of having undermined the people’s democratic regime, disturbing the
socialist reconstruction, engaging in espionage, in order to weaken the unity of the
Czechoslovakian people and the defense capacity of the republic. Thereby the
CSR would be ripped from the close ties and friendship of the Soviet Union, the
people’s democratic regime liquidated, capitalism reestablished, and the
Czechoslovakian Republic dragged anew into the capitalist camp and robbed of
its autonomy and independence.”380
The charges are ideological, and sound much more like other late Stalinist show
trials than they like legal treatments of Jews anywhere in Europe during the Hitler period.
This is very different language than that used during the National Socialist period
regarding Jews. Gone are the references to Jews in biological terms, or nationalist terms,
or any terms at all, as a matter of fact. Despite the fact that the lead defendant was a Jew,
and despite the fact that this episode is generally described as an anti- Semitic event, there
Ibid. “Den Angeklagten wird zur Last gelegt, als Verrräter und Feind des tschechoslowakischen Volkes,
des volksdemokratischen Regimes und des Sozialismus im Dienste der USA-Imperialisten ein
staatsfeindliches Verschwörerzentrum geschaffen zu haben. Weiterhin das volksdemokratische Regime
untergraben, den sozialistischen Aufbau gestört, Spionetätigkeit getreiben, die Einheit des
tschechoslowakischen Volkes und die Verteidigungskraft der Republik geschwächt zu haben. Damit sollte
die CSR von dem festen Bündis und der Freundschaft mit der Sowjetunion losgerissen werden, das
volksdemokratische Regime liquidiert, der Kapitalismus wiederaufgerichtet und die Tschechoslowakische
Republik erneut in das Lager des Imperialismus hineingezogen und ihrer Selbstständigkeit und
Unabhängigkeit beraubt werden.”
is no sense from the proceedings thus far that the defendant is Jewish. From the sense of
things thus far, one could indeed be forgiven for getting the sense that this is a Stalinist
show trial, not substantially different from others of wreckers, ideological enemies,
intraparty rivals, or any other identified enemy of the regime.
However, despite the formal similarities to other Stalinist attacks on the citizenry,
this was something different, something entirely distinct in its origins and effects. The
accused were said to be in the pay of the American spy service, to have sought the
reestablishment of a capitalist regime, to have undermined socialist reconstruction from
the war, to have pursued espionage, and to have endangered the nation’s friendship with
the people of the Soviet Union and the unity of the Czechoslovakian people. The first
charges could certainly have come from a show trial in any of the nations of the Socialist
bloc; the last was a meaningful and particular concern of the people who ran
Czechoslovakia—the unity of the Czech and Slovak peoples was not a given. In a similar
way, we will see reactions to the Slansky case in the GDR reflecting a similar mix of
concerns both historic and contingent, including the necessities of the cold war, a Soviet
patron, and the specific demands of running East Germany.
What we will also see, of course, is anti- Semitism. In the Soviet Union, in
Czechoslovakia, and the GDR, there was still rampant hostility toward Jews qua Jews.
The key to Stalinist anti- Semitism was in the rhetoric of anti-Zionism. Antipathy toward
the Jewish state was certainly not a given. One might indeed expect some warmth toward
the remnants of organized Jewry on the part of those claiming to be the heirs to German
opposition to Hitlerism, and in fact there were some meaningful signs of pro-Zionism in
the days after the foundation of the state of Israel. An essay prepared for the VVN—
“Der Neue Staat Israel”—spoke in a positive tone about Israel, identifying Zionism as a
progressive movement. The essay identified Israel’s struggle with anti-imperialism, held
that the Arabs were hurting their own cause by fighting the Jews, who were in turn
fighting the imperialists, and insisted that Israel meant a strengthening of selfdetermination for all peoples. The VVN itself was charged with the responsibility “to
resist the prejudice that the Jews were a race…[that] they are responsible for their own
misfortune.” “The Jews are not a race—they are a people [Volk] and wish to become a
nation in the State of Israel.”381 In fact, though, Zionism was the rhetorical key to the
Stalinist assault on Jewish citizens. The most important episode in the state’s attack on
“the Zionists” in the GDR came directly after the Slansky trial, and was placed in the
context of German Jews and their presumed loyalty to the Israeli state, and presumably
also to the USA.
The official state reaction to the Slansky trial leaned heavily in the direction of
watchfulness, self-criticism [meaning a ritualized self-abasement, in the interest of
maintaining one’s standing in the party or state, or even one’s life or freedom], and
patriotism. Meetings were held to discuss the “lessons” at different levels of the Party, at
which promises were made to combat “the enemies of our socialist reconstruction”. At
one local meeting, the participants decided to put up a “Kritikwandzeitung” [a sort of
bulletin board] to facilitate self-criticism, and to unmask the American radio service
RIAS to the population as a warmonger.382
The official reaction of the cadres was not discernible on its face, then, from other
Stalinist show trials. For example, in April of 1953, Leipziger Hans Leipner was
StAL SED-Stadtleitung Leipzig IV/5/01/523. Unnumbered, undated—says published same year of
Israel’s founding.
LVZ, 24 February, 1953, pg 2.
sentenced to death, his brother to life, and six others to terms ranging from 10 to 15 years,
for “sabotaging the provision of food for our republic with the support of the American
intelligence service, forging and putting into circulation large quantities of ration cards,
and engaging in war agitation against the German Democratic Republic and all nations of
the “peace camp” [the eastern bloc].”383 The next day, the LVZ ran an editorial saying
that crimes like those of the Leipners could only be combated if “our working people, our
state organs, and our Party organizations”, learn the lessons of earlier trials “and
especially the trial against the Slansky plot.”384 Seemingly, the lessons were based not on
anti-Semitism or even anti-Zionism, but on Cold War concerns like sabotage, political
resistance, and the cause of the socialist bloc.
But there was other evidence to the contrary. An ominous wave of anti-Zionist—
and anti-Jewish—rhetoric was filling the papers. On January 14, the Leipziger
Volkszeitung reported the uncovering of the Doctors’ Plot in Moscow, emphasizing the
plotters’ ties to the Jewish Joint Distribution committee, and asserting that one of the
accused had received his instructions to kill off Soviet leadership from Solomon Mikoels,
the murdered leader of the Jewish Antifascist Committee, a group under extremely severe
oppression itself.385
This was part of a generalized antagonism in the Soviet block, and especially in
the GDR, against Jews and Zionists. Despite early enthusiasm for the founding of the
state of Israel, by the early 1950’s, the socialist camp had begun to court Arab support,
had decided that Israel was not going to be their kind of socialist state, and had jettisoned
Ibid., 16 April, 1953, pg 1. “mit Unterstützung des amerikanisches Geheimdienstes die
Lebensmittelversorgung unserer Republik sabotieren, große Mengen Lebensmittelkarten fälschten und im
Umlauf brachten und Krieghetze gegen die Deutsche Demokratische Republik und alle Länder des
Friedenlagers betreiben.”
Ibid., 17 April, 1953, pg 1.
Ibid., 14 January, 1953.
the idea of individual restitution to victims of the Nazi regime as part of the first 5-Year
Plan of the GDR.386 All of this—combined with the overall sense of paranoia sweeping
the society— placed the Jews of the GDR in a precarious position, exposed more than
they had been since liberation to the whim of German anti-Semites, in government and
out of it. The anti-Jewish hostility in the whole bloc revolved around the doctors’ plot,
the trials of Slansky in Czechoslovakia and—two years earlier—the trial of the
Hungarian foreign minister, in which Jews were prosecuted and implicated, including
some in Germany, for cooperating with Zionist spies.387
Merker and the Jews
In the German Democratic Republic, the campaign took the form of a battle for
supremacy within the party between two groups: those who had been in exile in Moscow,
led by Walther Ulbricht, and those who had been in exile elsewhere, especially Mexico,
led by Paul Merker. The conflict went on for some time, and western émigrés (and Jews)
found themselves on the outs from the early 1950s, including the head of GDR radio, the
foreign policy editor of the Neues Deutschland newspaper, and Alexander Abusch, a
member of the politburo. Merker was himself expelled from the SED in 1950.388 At
around the same time, the Jewish editor of the Leipziger Volkszeitung was arrested at his
office as a Zionist spy and sentenced to 8 years in prison.389
Esther Ludwig, “Die Auswirkungen des Prager Slansky-Prozesses auf die Leipziger Juden 1952/53” in
Judaica Lipsiensia: zur Geschichte der Juden in Leipzig, herausgeben von der Ephraim-CarlebachStiftung, Redaktion: Manfred Unger. Leipzig, 1994: Edition Leipzig, 229.
Günter Fippel, “Zum Schicksal Leipziger Juden in der Sowjetunion nach 1933 und in der DDR bis
1953” in Judaica Lipsiensia: zur Geschichte der Juden in Leipzig, herausgeben von der EphraimCarlebach-Stiftung, Redaktion: Manfred Unger. Leipzig, 1994: Edition Leipzig, 213.
Mario Keßler, Die SED und die Juden—zwischen Repression und Toleranz: Politische Entwicklungen
bis 1967. Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 1995, 70-78.
Ludwig, 214.
Jews served multiple rhetorical functions for Ulbricht and his colleagues. Merker
had strongly advocated individual restitution to Jewish victims from the time of his
repatriation, and attacking Jews was a way to attack him. Jews were visible recipients of
western aid—in the form of packets from the American Jewish Joint Distribution
Committee—that set them up as objects of resentment from East Germans suffering
through material deprivation. Though they never admitted it, Jew-hatred was a good way
for East German leaders to connect to a broad German population that was not already
tied to the SED regime by ideology. Those East Germans who would not be seduced by
language of a working-class paradise might vest more legitimacy in a government that set
itself up in opposition to Jews. Finally, according to Mario Keßler, the Ulbricht
leadership of the GDR thought themselves to be in a weak position vis-à-vis Stalin, and
saw persecution of Jews as a way to curry favor with Moscow. The fact that a non-Jew—
Merker—was at the middle of it provided plausible deniability of anti- Semitism, per
The Purge
The next wave of persecution of Jews was touched off in November, 1952 by the
Slansky trial, and by the Doctors’ plot. This one was more explicitly anti- Semitic, in
which Jews were attacked not just as agents of the west, but as agents of Jewishnationalism, and their Jewish heritage was increasingly mentioned. A Leipzig editorial
denied hotly that the trial had anything to do with race, but seemed to endorse the idea
that Jews were somehow protected or privileged: “if anyone is uncovered as an agent of
Ibid., 89.
the American warmongers, their Jewish heritage will not protect them from
Over November and December there was a growing sense that Jews were to be
the focus of a new purge. In December, the VVN was ordered to compile lists of all loyal
and non-loyal Jews, as well as a list of all those who received packages from the Joint
[the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, generally referred to in the GDR as
simply “the Joint”]—a way to assert foreign contacts. All leaders of Jewish communities
were ordered to break off contacts with the west, as well as sign letters defaming Israel
and the Joint.392 The same month, Leo Zuckermann, a Jew and the President of the Legal
Academy, former chief of staff to the President of the GDR, and co-author of the
republic’s constitution, fled to the west.393 He found himself in this position despite
having proven his loyalty to the regime by authoring an article in which he denied Jewish
victims the same level of claim to restitution as active opponents of the regime.394
The most important sign of the danger to Jews came with the development of the
“Lessons from the Slansky Trial”, a long essay in which Jews and Zionists were attacked
by the SED as part of a general insistence on defense of the socialist state against spies
and saboteurs and those who had emigrated to the west during the war. The Slansky
trial—it was asserted—had done a great service to the GDR in uncovering the role of
Zionism as an agent for the Americans in their goal of restoring a capitalist-imperialist
regime in Prague. Something called the “Morgenthau-Acheson Plan” was cited as the
roadmap to such restoration. Jews were set up as the villains of their own persecution: a
Leipziger Volkszeitung, 4 December, 1952.
Ludwig, 233.
Ibid., 232.
Die Weltbühne, 27 April, 1948
“method of these criminals was to render watchful, progressive comrades impotent and
harmless through accusations of anti- Semitism. Zionism has nothing in common with the
goals of humanity or with true humaneness. It is controlled, directed and commanded by
USA imperialism, and exclusively serves its interests and the interests of Jewish
The old accusations against Paul Merker were recalled as further evidence of
treason both by Jews and by Merker: “the uncovering of Zionism as an enemy agent of
American imperialism uncovers at the same time the hostile role of the agent Paul Merker
in the German émigrés’ group in Mexico from 1942-1946. During this time, Merker
worked closely with Andre Simon, [a Jew] accused in the Slansky trial.” Merker’s (and
the Jews’) crimes included denouncing the appropriation of German-Jewish business,
when he knew that the real value of these businesses was being stolen from the German
people by monopolists, and that only the profit had changed hands, from “‘Jewish’
monopolist-capitalists to ‘Aryan’ monopolist-capitalists”.
In describing Zionism as a “national movement”, Merker had opened the door for
“the recognition of its spies and diversionists as a national minority” in East Germany.
Advocacy of restitution from Merker and others was “nothing but a glorification of
Zionism”, which would damage relations with the USSR. He had accused the German
working class of complicity in the crimes of Hitler, while he had absolved German Jews
of all blame. He had continued his work in Germany, encouraging Jews to join the
religious communities so that they would receive Joint-Packages and in this way become
indebted to the imperialists.395
“Endgültige Fassung” of “Lehren aus dem Prozeß gegen das Verschörerzentrum Slansky”, in BASAPMO, DY 30/IV 2/4/124—SED ZPKK, 19 December, 1952.
Clearly, these were dangerous times for Jews in the German Democratic
Republic. It is possible that this was part of a larger drive within East German and
Eastern Block politics, and that Jews were an incidental victim. In fact, a note from
Herman Matern, leader of the Central Party Control Commission, to Walter Ulbricht the
next month scarcely talked at all about Jews, and warned that the “Lessons” might be
mistaken by less-enlightened comrades. His example was the case of some peasants who
had called some Polish comrades “Polacks”, and who might therefore still be under the
spell of the fascist ideology of racial hatred.”. However, it is worth noting that before he
sent the memo to Ulbricht, Matern crossed out “racial”, and wrote “national”. It was
clearly of more concern to the leadership of the SED that the comrades acted respectfully
toward Poles than toward German Jews.396
The publication of the “Lessons” in Leipzig came on the same day as the story of
the doctors’ plot.397 It would have been very hard not to conclude that the Jews of the
city were under attack. Indeed, they were. Beginning on the 8th of January, at least 100
Jewish Leipzigers, including 42 SED members, were subjected to interrogation from
State Security. 28 were made to answer for deviation from the party line, including
members of the Vorstand of the Gemeinde and two professors at the University, including
Hermann Budzislawski.398
From Berlin, the representative of the American Jewish Congress told the
Jerusalem Post that the state had placed 912 Jewish and 1,098 mixed families on a
blacklist, in an effort to keep “all non-aryans and people living in mixed marriages under
control,” and that 114 men, 134 women and 85 children had been placed in detention.
BA-SAPMO, DY 30/IV 2/4/124—SED ZPKK, 13 December, 1952.
Leipziger Volkszeitung, 14 January, 1953.
Keßler, 103.
The Post also reported that the list was a precursor to the expulsion of all Jews from
government.399 The state had Jews under close surveillance. The all-Berlin Jewish
magazine Der Weg was being read closely by the inquisitors at the Central Party Control
Commission, with marks next to stories about returnees from exile in Shanghai, a visiting
US congressman, and large pink marks next to advertisements for Zionist organizations
and a notice for a memorial service for Chaim Weizmann, recently deceased president of
Prelude to Flight
Jewish leaders found themselves under increasing suspicion of disloyalty and
feared the worst. They may have had good reason to do so. According to “The Daily
Express”, they were tipped off. According to the newspaper’s report, Fritz Grunsfeld, a
prominent leader of the Leipzig Gemeinde, was notified by a Jew in the state bureaucracy
who came to his home late in the evening. This anonymous informant told Grunsfeld that
he had been recruited by the secret police to infiltrate the Jewish Gemeinde in order to
“arrange” incriminating evidence of links between Jewish leaders and Zionist
organizations, like the Jewish Agency and the Joint Distribution Committee, but was
compelled by personal loyalty and gratitude to Grunsfeld to let him know about it.401
The “Daily Express” said that Grunsfeld immediately told his colleague in the
leadership of the Gemeinde, Salo Looser, who then relayed the information to Julius
Meyer, President of the Jewish Gemeinde in the GDR. Meyer crossed the border to West
Ludwig, 232.
Der Weg, 28 November-26 December, in BA-SAPMO DY 30/IV 2/4/404—SED ZPKK.
This could have been for any number of reasons, reflecting Grunsfeld’s service in helping Jews find
jobs, shelter, clothing and restitution both as official of the Gemeinde and the leading attorney working for
restitution for Jews in East Germany.
Berlin and consulted with Jewish leaders there. It was decided that the Jewish leaders of
the East should stay where they were, but that an escape plan should be formed. The
code signal was “Großmutter im Sterben” [“Grandmother is dying”]. The code was not
acted upon for some time [w
e do not know when the original warning came], until Meyer
was called in to state security offices on the 6th of January for an interview.402
The interview was a 48-hour interrogation of Meyer covering all of the topics
fueling the current purge, and was led by Günther Tenner, who, according to the “Daily
Express”, had been slated to replace Hermann Matern as “Purgemaster” [Saüberer], but
who had since fallen under suspicion himself.403 Meyer was asked about contacts with
party members who had been jailed or expelled. He was asked about contacts with
Zuckermann and Merker, and any others who had pressed for restitution of Jewish
property. His interrogators wanted to know whether the Americans wanted anything in
return for the charity of the Joint Packets. They asked whether the Gemeinde supported
emigration to Israel. They wanted to know how often he went to West Berlin, and, most
ominously, they wanted to know—at the time of the Slansky trial—whether he had been
to Prague.
Meyer handled it as best he could, trying to deflect suspicion from himself and the
communities he headed. He had had contact with disgraced former comrades, he
admitted. He had meetings with Zuckermann and Merker about restitution, but he had
also been present at meetings on the same topic with Otto Grotewohl, Prime Minister of
the GDR. On the subject of the Joint Packets, he told his inquisitors that the distributors
“Der Mut des Herrn Meyer”, translation of article from “Daily Express”, 2 February, 1953, sent to
Hermann Matern and Franz Dahlem by Fritz Beyling, General Secretary of the VVN, BA-SAPMO DY
30/IV 2/4/124—SED ZPKK.
of the packets might address their concerns better than he could. He gave the name of a
woman who had been expelled from theGemeinde as a possible contact.
He also said that he had not been to West Berlin in several weeks because he was
called a murderer and an NKVD man when he went. This was an explicit lie—he had
just been to West Berlin to arrange escape for himself and the other leading Jewish
personalities in the country. He had been to Prague several times, but had nothing to do
with “these Slansky people”, and had not been in the company of Paul Merker or Leo
Zuckermann. When asked if he had read the “Lessons from the Slansky Trial”, he said
that he had studied the article and the whole affair very closely, and that he was
convinced that there was a big espionage ring in Prague. He went on: “for me there is no
racial question, only a class question. To me there are no Jews, only comrades and
traitors. We must also differentiate in the Gemeinde. Here there are also people who
represent the state of things in the West. The consciousness of our people is still not
great. There are those who would sell themselves for a big packet just like before.” He
was told he would have to return in a few days with minutes from meetings that had been
discussed, and then he was released.404
It was a skillful performance, ranging from shading the truth to evasion to
outright deception. He said exactly the words that his interrogator wanted to hear. He
spoke exactly the language that he was required to speak as a loyal member of the state
and party. He said the only thing he could say as the leader of the Jews of the GDR in
early 1953: Jewishness means nothing compared to the class struggle. He tried to defend
BA-SAPMO DY 30/IV 2/4/404—SED ZPKK, 6 January, 1953. “Aussprache mit dem Genossen Julius
Meier [sic], Präsident der jüdischen Gemeinde am 6.1.53”
his institution from suspicion, even to the point of directing blame toward someone who
was no longer a member, and hinting at an internal purge.
The most brazen move of all was the decision to return for his follow-up with the
interrogators. As soon as he was released, Meyer went across to West Berlin to report to
his colleagues there. Despite the protests of his appalled Western friends, he decided to
go back to the East and deal with Tenner. It was the only way he could warn the other
leaders and draw attention from their imminent flight.405 He did go back, and he did deal
with Tenner on the 8th of January, supplying him with minutes from meetings and
explaining a trip to Israel, as requested.406 The next day he went to Leipzig, made contact
with Looser and Grunsfeld, and warned them that anyone who had had contact with
western Jewish organizations or had championed restitution to Jews was subject to arrest
as a spy. A few hours later, Looser, Grunsfeld and their loved ones were on a train for
Berlin and the western sector.407
For all the protestations by the party that the Slansky “Lessons” had nothing to do
with Jews, per se, some SED members understood those lessons has having everything to
do with Jews. The SED in nearby Herzberg reported that the comrades there had held a
thoroughgoing discussion about Zionism, characterized by the greatest unclarity. The
opinion emerged that Zionism represented a union of the Jewish people, an attitude that
surely would lead to hostility toward all Jews as Zionists.408 At one Ortsgruppe meeting
in Leipzig held on the 16th of January to address the issues around Slansky, the chair held
forth not only on Slansky, but also on Jews in general. According to Frau Elsa Klinke,
“Der Mut des Herrn Meyer”. This decision was the “Mut”, the courage, of the title of the article.
BA-SAPMO DY 30/IV 2/4/404—SED ZPKK, 8 January, 1953.
Steffen Held, Zwischen Tradition und Vermächtnis: Die Israelitische Relgionsgemeinde zu Leipzig
nach 1945. 1995; Hamburg; Dölling und Galitz, 41.
BA-SAPMO, DY 30/IV 2/4/124—SED ZPKK, 30 March, 1953.
the comments of the chair on the intended theme were “quite poor, but his ‘explanation’
of Jewry was most expansive.” He held that “Jews had never earned their living through
work, and therefore Hitler should have destroyed them.” He remarked further that one
was obliged to leave the current Jewish communities.
This report came in a letter from Frau Klinke to the Gemeinde [“zu Händen des
Herrn Looser”], asking that something be done about this evident lapse into the language
of anti-Semitism. “We protest against this racial hatred and await action from the Jewish
community, taking care to see that this Nazi-ideology is put to rest once and for all…It is
the duty of every citizen to be watchful. We the racial victims have the added
responsibility to nip racial hatred in the bud.”409 [“Wir protestierten gegen diese
Rassenhetze und erwarten von der jüdischen Gemeinde, dafür Sorge zu tragen, dass die
Nazi-Ideologie ein für allemal beseitigen wird. Es ist die Pflicht jeden Bürgers wachsam
zu sein. Wir die rassisch Verfolgte, haben darüber hinaus die Verpflichtung, der
Rassenhetzte den Boden zu entziehen.”] What’s interesting here is the use of the
language of the regime [“the duties of the citizen to be watchful”] by the Jews on one
side, and a lapse into the language of Nazism [this sort of “unproductive Jew” rhetoric
was a crucial element of the appeal of Nazism to a “less-enlightened” proletariat] on the
Frau Klinke’s concerns were addressed, not by Salo Looser, but by the VVN, in
the person of Herr Bayer, who reported a meeting with Frau Klinke and the leadership of
the Ortsgruppe. Bayer concluded that a commission ought to be set up to look into the
matter, “because it really is of wide-ranging importance to the Ortsgruppe.”410 We do
Letter dated 23 January, 1953, in StAL SED-Stadtleitung IV/5/01/523.
StAL SED-Stadtleitung IV/5/01/523, 29 January, 1953.
not know whether Looser ever got the note. We do know that he was seriously
concerned—whether from the “lessons”, or from the actions of the state at other levels—
about the direction the Jewish policy of the GDR had taken by then, because Salo Looser
had just fled the German Democratic Republic, along with Fritz Grunsfeld, Julius Meyer,
and most of the other most prominent Jews in the country.
Looser and Grunsfeld and the Flight
Salo Looser was a textile dealer. His antifascist credentials were impeccable. He
had been a member of the SPD since 1926, of the Reichsbanner anti- fascist paramilitary
from 1931-33, and the SED after the unification of the socialist parties. From 1943,
following the confiscation of his home, he was transported to Auschwitz, suffering
imprisonment there and in other camps, including Bergen-Belsen, before being liberated
by the British on 5 May, 1945411; he was the only survivor of 31 men in the 1943
transport that took him to Auschwitz. His wife was shot in Ravensbrück in February
1945. 412 Of equal importance from the perspective of the SED, he was a bona fide
“Kämpfer” [fighter]: from 1933 to 1945, he participated in the Habonim, an underground
left-Zionist youth group-turned-resistance group, printing subversive literature, and
continued his work in the camps.413
On his return to Leipzig, Looser returned to business life and immersed himself in
the affairs of the Gemeinde, serving first as Gemeinde liaison to the Kommunalabteilung
[municipal department] responsible for coordinating social work with the city
StAL Bezirkstag und Rat des Bezirkes 14620—Leipzig, 25 September, 1945.
Ibid., 13 June, 1945. Looser’s questionnaire for Wiedergutsmachung Hilfsausschuss für die Opfer des
Ibid., 28 March, 1950. SED report on Looser
government for returning and transient Jews, and then on the community’s economic
board414. On 2 April 1948, Looser was appointed to replace the deceased Alfred
Muscattblatt as a member of the Vorstand.415 From an early point, he clearly enjoyed the
confidence of the Gemeinde as well as the organs of the state. As early as December
1945, he was co-signing (on behalf of the Gemeinde) the necessary paperwork for
Gemeinde members to be certified as victims of the regime.416 As well, he served on the
official governmental committee that certified those victims from 1950 through 1952.417
He was trusted ideologically. On the 14th anniversary of the Reichspogromnacht, he was
chosen to speak on behalf of the Gemeinde and the VVN about the lessons of
Kristallnacht, and the debt owed by humanity to the Soviet Union for securing a part of
the world against racial hatred and warmongering.418 On 27 November 1952, his name
was on a list sent to the SED, Abteilung Partei und Massenorganisationen, of candidates
for the Kreisleitung of the VVN.419 Two months later, he fled the country.
The other outstanding leader of the Leipzig Gemeinde in the early 1950s was Fritz
Grunsfeld. He appears for the first time in the archives in his work with the Gemeinde in
the period of Nazi persecution. As early as December 1939, he was writing to the local
administrative court, seeking to re-register the Gemeinde under a name reflecting the
national law of 3 August, 1939, degrading Jewish organizations from public to private
Leipzig Gemeinde Archive, 484, “Tätigskeitbericht des Vorstandes der Israelitischen
Religionsgemeinde zu Leipzig für die Zeit der Wiederöffnung 15. Mai 1945 bis zum Schluss des
Kalendarjahres 1946”
StAL Bezirkstag und Rat des Bezirkes 20664, 3 March, 1954.
StAL Bezirkstag und Rat des Bezirkes Leipzig 15812—VdN file on Moses Fisch, 8 December, 1945.
e.g.: StAL Bezirkstag und Rat des Bezirkes Leipzig 17801—VdN file on Ernst Goldfreund, 14 April,
LVZ, 12 November, 1952.
StAL SED-Stadtleitung Leipzig IV/5/01/523, 27 November, 1952.
bodies, concerned only with cultural preservation.420 He had, by this time, taken over the
business of the Gemeinde as Administrator. The administrative court was notified in
October 1940 that Grunsfeld had been elected to the Vorstand of the Gemeinde, replacing
the beloved Samuel Hodes.421 Grunsfeld continued to handle the business of the
Gemeinde and eventually did so for other Jewish organizations, as they fell moribund due
to the emigration or deportation of their members.422
It was Grunsfeld who had the thankless task of trying to keep the government
happy in matters ranging from the number of non-German Jews working for the
Gemeinde 423 to the name of the Gemeinde. From February 1939 through October 1942,
Grunsfeld was the business and legal voice of the Gemeinde. It is not entirely clear how
Grunsfeld spent the next three years, but we do know that he was arrested by the Gestapo
on 10 June 1942,424 and that he was deported that year to Theriesenstadt, where he said
he spent a year.425 He also stated that he had spent two and a half years in detention.426
Grunsfeld’s service to the Gemeinde served him in good stead after his return
from deportation, about which we know little. A report prepared for the Soviet
occupation indicated that he was added to the Vorstand in 1945, and given direction of
the legal affairs of the Gemeinde, including questions of reparations.427 He became a
leader in the Soviet zone and the GDR on the question of reparations, acting on behalf of
StAL PP-V 2265 Polizeipräsidium Leipzig; Verinsregister des Amtgerichts Leipzig, Israelitische
Religionsgemeinde zu Leipzig, e.V., 15 December, 1939.
Ibid., 10 October, 1940.
As in the case of the sale in 1941 of the burned-out former synagogue belonging to Talmud-Thora in
1941 to a pharmaceutical company. Grunsfeld’s is the name on the bill of sale. StAL PP-V 4406—
Geheime Staatspolizei file on Verein Ahavas-Thora, 10 August, 1941.
StAL PP-V 4438, Polizeipräsidium Leipzig; Geheime Staatspolizei, Staatspolizei Leipzig: Israelitische
Religionsgemeinde, 1938-1940. 30 March, 1939.
CJA 5B1, # 59. 16. 9 December, 1949.
CJA 5B1, #57. 187. 13 March, 1950.
CJA 5B1, #59. 16 October, 1946.
LGA, 484, “Tätigskeitbericht des Vorstandes der Israelitischen Religionsgemeinde zu Leipzig für die
Zeit der Wiederöffnung 15. Mai 1945 bis zum Schluss des Kalendarjahres 1946”.
the Gemeinde—as in the case of the back taxes due on Gemeinde properties, taxes he
asserted were improper since the properties had always been used for religious purposes,
and it was only due to the Nazis that were not now so used428.
He also made reparations work a centerpiece of his private practice, employing a
fierce rhetoric to justify the return of his clients’ property. Demanding the return of
property to Dr. Conrad Lewinsohn, he pointed out that the “anti-fascist state had
distanced itself with repugnance from the terror, murder and thievery of the Hitler
dictatorship,” and did not therefore understand how the continued theft of client’s
property could continue in the finance office in Leipzig.429 We know that this was not an
unusual action for Grunsfeld because there is a letter in the archive from April of 1950
using precisely the same language; that a form letter was necessary suggests that he was
doing plenty of this kind of work.430
Clearly, Grunsfeld did not enjoy unalloyed good relations with the Soviet
occupiers or their DDR successors. In fact, Grunsfeld was in Soviet custody for a brief
time in 1946, for reasons that are not made clear in the files (although there is a hint that
“holding in the camps”, i.e. being an inmate in a Nazi concentration camp, was often a
cause) but was soon released and “fully rehabilitated”.431 Shortly thereafter, he began a
campaign for the granting of his law license, even though he did not meet all of the
requirements. “Because I was not active in the service of the law and could not stand for
my examinations during the past Nazi period, I have the right to status as a lawyer as a
CJA 5B1, # 57, 17 July, 1950.
Ibid., 1 March 1950
Ibid., 19 April, 1950
LGA 315, 30 January, 1946; 10 April, 1946.
victim of and fighter against fascism”. He pointed out in the same letter to the Saxon
legal authority that he was the only Jewish jurist in Leipzig.432
Grunsfeld was not above pointing out the political benefits of admitting him to the
bar. He asserted in a letter a month later that due to his political activities with the
Gemeinde and other Jewish organizations, he was in touch with many German Jews
living outside the country, and that, by the state granting him his license “the trust of
Jews living outside Germany will be strengthened on the reparations question.”433 Given
Grunsfeld’s position as the leading authority on and advocate for Jewish reparations, this
statement might be expected to carry some weight. As if to reaffirm Grunsfeld’s
position, the Gemeinde sent a supporting note the same day.434
A few months later, Grunsfeld received his reply from the Saxon board, saying
that they were ready to give him his license if he would complete the standard one-year
term of voluntary legal service.435 Grunsfeld balked at this, pointing out in his appeal to
the central German authority that he would have already done this service had the Nazis
not removed him from his career path for twelve years. He also indicated that he had to
take care of a father crippled by the SS and a mother made sick in the camps.
His indignation reached its peak when he pointed out that two similarly underqualified gentiles had been given their licenses, and suggested that the Saxon board had
not handled the case with the necessary objectivity or recognition of his status as a victim
of Nazism. He closed the letter by pointing out that, due to his work with the Gemeinde,
he was “—I can say this without overstatement—known in the whole world”, and that his
CJA 5B1, #59: 21 June, 1946.
Ibid., 20 July, 1946.
Ibid., 196.
Ibid., 11 October, 1946.
admission to practice would make a big difference in foreign perceptions of reparations
questions.436 We do not know exactly what course things took from here, but we do
know that Grunsfeld was eventually granted his license as attorney and notary, and
almost always signed his name “Rechtsanwalt und Notar” [Attorney at Law and Notary].
Grunsfeld’s good name was still open to question, even after the granting of his
law license. In December 1949, Grunsfeld was the subject of a joint meeting of the
regional leadership of the VVN, the President of the Landesverband [the national
umbrella of Jewish communities], and the leadership board of the Gemeinde in Leipzig
(in the persons of none other than Looser and Grunsfeld himself). The cause of the
meeting was a charge leveled against Grunsfeld that he had, while active in the Gemeinde
in 1942, involved himself in the deportation of Dr. Hans Singer to Theriesenstadt. In
fact, the meeting concluded, Grunsfeld had been deported several days before Singer, and
could have had no influence in that decision.437
Julius Meyer, President of the Landesverband informed the accuser, Max Bruno
Engel, that Meyer was holding his options open for a suit against Engel for casting
aspersions on the good name of the Vice-President of the Landesverband. The meeting
concluded that Engel would be advised to send a series of letters admitting his mistake,
letters he apparently did send, since a copy of his letter to the VVN found its way into the
files of the Landesverband.438 The quickness with which Engel complied (the letter is
dated two days after the date of the meeting) indicates that, despite the difficulty in which
he found himself, Grunsfeld was someone to be reckoned with, not least due to his
position within the Gemeinde. It was, after all, a joint meeting of the Gemeinde board,
Ibid., 16 October, 1946.
Ibid., 9 December, 1949.
CJA 5B1, #57, 8 December, 1949.
the Landesverband and the VVN leadership that expunged the record on Grunsfeld’s
good name, and that name was a constant presence on the forms required to vouch for the
bona fides of applicants to “Victim” or “Fighter” status.439 Like Looser, Grunsfeld was a
considerable personage in Leipzig and GDR politics, travelling in his position as VicePresident of the Landesverband back and forth between Leipzig and Berlin, and even into
the Western sector.440
His prominence notwithstanding, Grunsfeld can be described as having something
of a thin skin. He was quick and severe in his reaction to the aspersions cast on his
character by Max Engel, and the same concern for his dignity was apparent in his
response to a misunderstanding about a meeting of the Landesverband. In October 1951
Grunsfeld read about a general meeting of the Landesverband in Berlin, to which he had
not been invited. He immediately sent in his resignation as Vice- President of the
national Verband, observing that “it would hardly be compatible with an orderly
management to arrange meetings of which the Vice-President is surprised to learn of in
the paper.”441
Leo Eisenstadt of the Landesverband hastened to reply, but interestingly the letter
was not handled directly by Julius Meyer, the president of the Landesverband, whose
E.g.: StAL Bezirkstag und Rat des Bezirkes Leipzig 15418—VdN file on Heinrich [& Manfred] and
Johanna Rosenthal, 24 December, 1945.
SAPMO DY 30/IV 2/4/404—SED ZPKK. 16 January, 1953, referring to trip in 1948.
CJA 5B1, #57. 22 October, 1951. Jay Geller’s new research is correct to emphasize the relative agency
of Jewish politicians like Meyer, playing a game of patronage with the SED in order to appease both
Communist and Jewish constituencies. His paper at the October 2004 German Studies Association, “East
German Jewry and Patronage Politics in the Early GDR”, makes this point well. It suffers, however, from
a narrow focus on Meyer, to the exclusion of important leaders outside of Berlin, like Grunsfeld. Grunsfeld
would no doubt resent this, as he did so much else. Lothar Mertens, in Davidstern unter Hammer und
Zirkel, also focuses on the relative agency of Jewish politicians. His focus on the individual communities
results in a more balanced picture, as Peter Monteath recognizes in his review article “The German
Democratic Republic and the Jews”, German History, 1 August 2004, vol. 22, iss. 3, pp. 448-468. Geller,
Mertens, and this work all emphasize Jewish agency, in contrast to Keßler’s more top-down model of SED
name was usually on correspondence to his deputy. Eisenstadt assured Grunsfeld that he
had shown the letter to Meyer, and wanted to assure him too that the meeting was not a
general meeting of the Landesverband, but a spontaneous meeting of Landesverband
representatives in Berlin called at the last minute to discuss the latest appeal from Otto
Grotewohl, the Prime Minister. Eisenstadt expressed regret that things had come to such
a pass and sent along Meyer’s wish to meet before further steps were taken.442 There is
no record of how that meeting turned out, but Grunsfeld remained at his post as vice
president until he left the GDR. Relations between the two men may have cooled some
over the incident: Grunsfeld, who almost never signed his name without his title, usually
did so with Meyer,443 but the first correspondence between the two after the abortive
resignation is addressed and signed in the most formal way.444
Grunsfeld’s relationship to the East German Jewish leadership in early 1953 was
tense, and reflective of meaningful disagreements. The differences between them might
reasonably be attributed to any number of causes: internal rivalry, Grunsfeld’s thin skin,
and competition over scarce resources. It is also true that East German Jews were
functioning in an atmosphere of heightened anxiety: the rhetoric around the Slansky case
was enough to worry some of the members of the Leipzig Gemeinde. Clearly, it was
enough to worry its leadership, too. They were sufficiently concerned that they fled the
Reactions to the Flight
Ibid., 30 October, 1951.
Ibid., 24 March, 1951.
Ibid., 24 January, 1952.
On the night of the 15th of January, 1953—five days after the flight of Grunsfeld,
Looser and Meyer, Albert Goldschmidt, an SED member and later member of the
Vorstand of the Gemeinde, called a fellow member and official of the VVN to express
concern about the possibility of a forthcoming pogrom against the Jews. The official,
Bayer, concluded (and reported to his superiors) that Goldschmidt and his wife—who
had not been able to sleep for fear of a recurrence of the Nazi genocide—had probably
been listening to propaganda on foreign radio, and that he reported that he had been able
to calm Goldschmidt down.
But the next day, Bayer reported that he and another VVN functionary had
discovered the flight of Salo Looser. Stopping by Looser’s home to discuss preparations
for a VVN conference with him, Bayer and Charlotte Wenzel were confronted by
Looser’s secretary, Edith Hönicke, who was sitting in her car, crying and asking why her
boss would want to flee to the west. When Bayer asked why she believed that had
happened, she said that an employee of another firm had reported it to her. When Bayer
went to his own office, he was told that the upcoming conference of the VVN had been
postponed without any replacement date.
Bayer—now taking the initiative on the part of the state to find Looser, or find out
what had become of him—went back to Looser’s office, but found that there was no
evidence of flight. The records were in order, the money was in the drawer. He was told
at this point that Looser had gone to Berlin to a meeting of Jewish leaders with Julius
Meyer, and discovered that some documents—mostly those needed for export business—
were missing, and that an orderly conclusion of business had in fact been undertaken.
A visit to the Gemeinde’s offices was not helpful. The stenotypist there could add
nothing to the investigation, except to express her doubt that Looser really had left
everything in such good order if he had really gone into exile. Bayer then went to
question the mother of Looser’s life partner (making note of the fact that their
relationship was “noch nicht gesetzlich legitimiert”, “not yet legally legitimate”), who
denied that her daughter would leave the country, because her father was sick. She had
only gone to Berlin, insisted her mother, to visit Julius Meyer, with whom she and Looser
were very close, and to visit Meyer’s sick daughter. She also insisted that there was no
evidence in her daughter’s business of anything irregular, and that she had left checks
written for the days she was to be gone.
Bayer then tried to contact the Jewish community in Berlin, which did not answer
the phone. Then a “representative of state security” entered the scene, arriving at Bayer’s
VVN offices to demand all documents dealing with Jews, which were delivered. Frau
Wenzel was also directed to go to Berlin and call Meyer’s house and report. Calls began
coming in from the public asking about the rumored flight. The callers were told that an
investigation was under way. Later that day, Bayer admitted to having heard that
Hamburg Radio had reported the flight of Looser, Meyer and ten other Jews.
Bayer’s report is an oddity, a mixture of police paperwork and friendly concern.
His discussion of Goldberg’s concerns—while it does implicate Goldberg and his wife
for suspicious activities—continued by saying that everything must be done to see that
more panic did not spread, and that the Looser case had to properly explained. He closed
the report by talking about rumors in his office of popular anti- Semitism.445
StAL SED-Stadtleitung Leipzig IV/5/01/523 SED party leadership files, 1947-1953, 17 January, 1953.
In so doing, he might have been trying to give the impression that any concerns
Jews had were the result of an antagonism toward Jews that was coming from the ground
up. His handling of the Klinke case (see above) also gives that impression, as does a
follow-up a few weeks later, in which he expressed concern that the Looser case would
lead to further fears and uncertainty.446 In fact, though, what the Jews of East Germany
feared most were not the actions of their fellow citizens, but the actions of the state. It is
true that—as noted above—the GDR was in a state of flux, that spies and traitors were
seen everywhere, but Jews had reason to believe that they were in for particular
harassment and worse.
The purge continued, given more energy by the flight of the Jewish leaders. The
Foreign Minister of the GDR, Georg Dertinger from the CDU, was arrested on the 15th,
on suspicions of contact with former Czech ambassador to the GDR Otto Fischl—who
was convicted in the Slansky trial and hanged. The CDU publicly thanked the organs of
state security for having brought this traitor to their attention, and promised to have
nothing to do with “Kosmopolitismus, dem Neutralismus, und dem Objektivismus.”
[cosmopolitanism, neutralism and objectivism]447 The reference to “Kosmopolitismus” is
a more-or-less clear allusion to Jews.
A spasm of pre-emptive self-criticism
—often accompanied by denunciation of
others—seized some Jews and party functionaries of the GDR, and especially some of
those who were both. Anxious to defer suspicion, people wrote in to report that they had
had contact with defendants in the Slansky-trial, or with Paul Baender. Often, they wrote
in to describe Jews acting in suspicious ways. Sometimes, this was done by Jews, as in
Ibid., 23 January, 1953.
Ludwig, 233.
the case of Hertha Reder, who wrote a long letter to the control commission describing a
years-long relationship with some people with whom she had been in a Zionist
organization before the war. She was anxious to point out mistakes she had made, but
seemingly more so to give names of people whom she had found suspicious before, but
now, given the Slansky trial, she saw “in a different light”.448
Sometimes, these letters were shameless attempts to shift blame and attention, as
in the case of Reder or of Hilde and Rudolf Neumann, who had been in the Mexican
emigration with Merker, and were therefore in a very vulnerable position. They wrote to
point out that Leo Katz, the leader of the Austrian exiles in Mexico had “directed a very
Zionist policy and had close contacts with Jewish economic emigrants…Katz also had
contact with many Ostjüdische [Jews of Eastern European origin, often used as a slur by
anti-Semites and some German-born Jews] businessmen, whose names escape us.”449
Not content to associate their erstwhile colleague with unpopular policies and people,
they smeared him with the traditional “Ostjuden”.
Other messages were much more honorable attempts to clear one’s name in the
face of suspicion, without calumny against someone else. Dr. Prof. Ernst Engelberg of
the University of Leipzig wrote in to report on his long-term relationship with Slansky’s
brother-in-law Antonin Hašek. Hašek had aided Engelberg in his flight from Germany
during the Nazi period and, through his contacts with Slansky, had helped him to get to
Moscow, while his wife and child had stayed with Hašek for several months. The
relationship had come up during his candidacy for a party leadership position at the
University, and nothing had been made of it. He and his wife wanted to help the party in
BA-SAPMO, DY 30/IV 2/4/124—SED ZPKK, 16 January, 1953.
Ibid., 2 December, 1952.
its investigation, but could think of nothing to add. Engelberg was careful to say that he
had nothing bad to say about Hašek—no doubts had ever been raised about his honor,
and he came from a good proletarian background.450 Given the danger in having the
relationship with Hašek to begin with, insisting on his good character was a brave thing
to do.
People wrote in to provide more ammunition against those who had already fled
the country, like the telegraph employee who insisted that he had seen Leo Zuckermann’s
children playing with Yugoslavian children and slandering the police and Stalin. When
confronted by this man, Zuckermann allegedly told him to mind his own business, that
there was a good reason for his children’s utterances.451 This is almost certainly
nonsense, and the degree to which it is evocative of the absurdity of other Stalinist show
trials and purges is indicative of what was going on in early 1953. For Jews facing this
kind of danger, awareness of their double vulnerability in the homeland of the holocaust
must have been overwhelming.
The mood seemingly seized the whole party. SED members who were associated
with Meyer or who were Jewish were open to suspicion. One friend of Julius Meyer was
described as doing nothing for the party: “it is said of him: ‘first a Jew—then a
comrade’”.452 Alexander Katten was denounced for insisting that Meyer was innocent at
a VVN meeting. His comrades also asserted that he had described himself as a member
of a Zionist organization, and that he had gotten all of his information from Meyer. He
was immediately reported to the police, along with a tip that he was travelling to Leipzig
Ibid., 19 January, 1953.
Ibid., 7 January, 1953.
BA-SAPMO, DY 30/IV 2/4/404—SED ZPKK, 2 February, 1953.
the next day.453 A leader in the Berlin SED was told by a friend that the Jews had a
“persecution psychosis”, and that a state-appointed Vorstand for Jews in the GDR was
needed as a substitute for the elected one. He agreed.454
At the 5th Party Congress of the SED that July, concern was expressed that the
propaganda work of the party had “decayed into dogmatism, minutiae and Talmudism.”
The composer Hans Eisler was accused in the national party organ “Neues Deutschland”
of allowing “the influence of homeless cosmopolitanism” into his new opera. 455 Bruno
Wolf, the Jewish director of education and religion in the Central Committee of the SED,
was arrested and charged with aiding Jews in fleeing the country.456 A full-blown wave
of anti-Semitism had gripped the country.
The leaders of the Jewish community in Leipzig were not alone in leaving the
GDR. Leo Löwenkopf, leader of the Dresden community, followed on the 12th or 13th of
January, and sent his constituents a farewell letter explaining his flight.457 From
December of 1952 to the end of January 1953, about 500 Jews fled to West Berlin, about
15 a day. Of about 3000 members of Gemeinden in the GDR, 365 left. 458
The repression did not let up in the spring of 1953. Several in Leipzig saw
themselves charged with economic crimes. Manfred Rosenthal was charged with tax
evasion and lost his textile dealership before fleeing with his wife in April to the west.
Hans Zellner, who had fought off anti-Semites with the assistance of the party not long
before, found himself charged with facing five counts of tax evasion, and lost his
Ibid., 2 February, 1953.
Ibid., 19 January, 1953.
Ludwig, 234-235.
Ibid., 234.
BA-SAPMO, DY 30/IV 2/4/124—SED ZPKK, 7 February, 1953.
Ludwig, 234. These numbers need to be understood remembering that the East Berlin Gemeinde was
not part of the GDR Verband until some years later.
restaurant and café, and fled with his family to Frankfurt. The effects of the purge on the
Leipzig Gemeinde will be fully explored in the following chapter, but for now we may
note that membership dropped from 237 members in 1952 to 173 in August of 1953.459
Held, Zwischen Tradition und Vermächtnis, 42.
Chapter 6: Construction Will Commence: after the purge, normalcy, and the Wende
The Uses of Jews
The period immediately after the flight of Looser, Grunsfeld and their colleagues
saw a succession of purges directed at and within the Gemeinde in Leipzig and the Jews
of the GDR, generally. One of the first victims was the VVN, the organization for
victims of the Nazi regime, of which the fled had been leaders. A few days after the
flight, the VVN sent out a circular to all of its regional leadership, announcing the
“Expulsion of Zionist agents from the VVN!” The message is illustrative: a desperate
VVN leadership, fighting for their political (and possibly their physical) lives, because of
their association with the fled, hewing as closely as they can to the official line of the
GDR. The episode and what follows present an excellent summary of the rhetorical
position of the regime toward Jews.
The declaration went on: “At the same time that the fascist terror in West
Germany West Berlin grows ever clearer, at the same time that the preacher of the Jewish
community in Berlin, Martin Riesenburger, makes an appeal to all peace-loving Berliners
against the war agitation and ever more brutal anti-Semitic activities in West Berlin: at
this same time a few Zionist agents—among them the VVN members Meyer,
Löwenkopf, Singer and Looser—have retreated to their clients in the West Berlin spy
network, when it became clear that their double role—played in the Jewish community as
well as the VVN—was to be exposed.”460
Jews were a way to separate the GDR from its western rivals, both as victims and
as villains. The GDR was the opposite of the Federal Republic, and the GDR was the
StAL SED-Stadtleitung Leipzig IV/5/01/523 SED party leadership files, 1947-1953, 20 January, 1953.
opposite of the Nazis, ergo the Federal Republic was led by Nazis. And, when antiSemitism gained currency throughout the eastern bloc, the GDR did not hesitate to
identity Jews as spies of the west. The third step, perhaps too ludicrous for even the
desperate men of the VVN to say out loud but made quite clear in implication, was that
the Jews who had fled were Nazis themselves.
In fact, the party and state were following a strategy to appeal to a broad mass of
East Germans and, like their opposite numbers in the Soviet bloc and their predecessors
in the Nazi Party, they were able and willing to employ a language of anti- Semitism to at
once appeal to their fellow citizens and establish their bona fines as the legitimate
German state. Attacking Jews served many purposes at once: it separated the GDR from
the rival West Germans; it affirmed loyalty to the USSR at a time when that was of
overwhelming importance, and it allowed the SED—despite selling themselves to the left
as anti-Nazis—to sell themselves to other citizens as a “real German government”.
Indeed, as the leaders of the VVN made clear in their new “Arbeitsplan” [workplan] immediately after the flight of the Jewish leaders, a major priority for the
organization was to “win the broadest sections of war victims, new citizens, former
[Nazi] party comrades, officers of the former Wehrmacht to the National Front.”461
This was a far cry from the original purposes of the VVN, and an attempt to
maintain the relevancy of the organization at a time when many of its leaders had shown
themselves—as individuals and as a group—to be obstacles to the goals of the regime. It
did not work. Within weeks the VVN suspended operations, and was replaced with a
“Komitee der antifaschisten Widerstandskämpfer” [a committee of anti-fascist resistance
fighters], which had no place for most Jews, and would certainly not be a platform for
Ibid, 5 February, 1953.
restitution demands, or commit any other acts that might damage the purposes of the state
and party.462
Changes in Jewish Life
The VVN was not the only organization to suffer from reorganization. The
Landesverband der Jüdischen Gemeinden in der DDR was dissolved and replaced with a
new Verband, with no components in Berlin until 1960, and therefore no regular contact
with the west.463 In contrast with the old organization in which Leipzigers were very
prominent, nobody from the city was chosen to sit on the board of the new organization
in its new headquarters in Halle.464 This is not surprising, given the prominence of those
Leipzigers in the list of those flown. Perhaps this was a sign that Leipzig was no longer
seen as the home of reliable Jewish leaders.
The Gemeinde in Leipzig limped along as best it could. Its first public act after
the flight of its leading members was the distribution of a circular to all members asking
how much matzo meal they needed for the upcoming holidays.465 Politics was out. Two
days later, the Gemeinde sent a note to the regional government, the Rat des Bezirkes
[Regional Council], announcing that “after the expulsion of Herrs Salo Looser and Dr.
Fritz Grunsfeld from the Vorstand of the Israelitsichen Religionsgemeinde zu Leipzig, it
[the Vorstand] has been newly constituted through co-optation. Now belonging to the
Vorstand are Herr Richard Frank, Herr Ernst Goldfreund, Herr Heinrich Rosenthal and
Esther Ludwig, “Die Auswirkungen des Prager Slansky-Prozesses auf die Leipziger Juden 1952/53” in
Judaica Lipsiensia: zur Geschichte der Juden in Leipzig, herausgeben von der Ephraim-CarlebachStiftung, Redaktion: Manfred Unger. Leipzig, 1994: Edition Leipzig, 234.
Steffen Held, Zwischen Tradition und Vermächtnis: Die Israelitische ReligionsGemeinde zu Leipzig
nach 1945. 1995; Hamburg; Dölling und Galitz, 43.
LGA 586, 14 February, 1953.
LGA 307, 26 January, 1953.
Herr Moritz Engelberg.”466 It is worth noting that the letter in response from the Rat was
written in a quite polite tone, announcing that a new Referat [department] for religious
affairs had been formed in the Rat. It also asked, still in a cordial tone, “when we might
meet with you for a short conversation in order to establish personal contacts.”467 Given
what had just happened, it is impossible to know how the men who received this note
read it, in its surface tone of cordiality, or with a mind to the very real and continuing
threat that Jews faced from the authorities at that time.
Reorganization of the Gemeinde
There was no mention made in the minutes of the meeting that chose these men of
what had happened to the former leaders.468 Frank, Goldfreund and Rosenthal were
holdovers from the old Vorstand, and therefore in a very precarious position as
potentially suspicious former allies of Looser and Grunsfeld. And, in fact, Richard Frank
resigned as Chair of the Vorstand less than two months later, and was replaced by Ernst
Goldfreund. No reason was recorded for his resignation, but it was noted that the
Vorstand appreciated those reasons. If this was an aftereffect of the flight of Looser and
Grunsfeld, it was a fairly soft landing for Frank, who was made Honorary Chair.469
If it was a priority for the Gemeinde to appear reliable—if that was why they had
hastened to reform their Gemeinde, and why Frank had fallen from his position—we
should not be surprised that news of the death of Stalin in March met with the
[scrupulously recorded] rising from the seats of the Vorstand when they heard. They
StAL BT/RdB Leipzig 20664, 29 January, 1953.
Ibid, 31 January, 1953.
LGA 586, 24 January, 1953.
Ibid., 14 February, 21 March, 1953
immediately dictated a letter of condolences to the Rat des Bezirkes.470 The letter they
sent was an extraordinary testimony to their desire to maintain their viability in the city
and system in which they lived:
“The under-signed Vorstand of the Israelitischen Religionsgemeinde zu Leipzig
has received with shock the news of the death of J.W. Stalin, and allows itself to express
its sincere condolence for this heavy loss. Exactly we Jews have every reason to
remember the work of Stalin with great gratitude, who through the liberation of
thousands and thousands of Jews from the concentration camps gave them back their
freedom. The Israelitischen Religionsgemeinde zu Leipzig will always hold the memory
of J.W. Stalin in high honor. We ask you to forward this letter and its contents to the
responsible authorities.”
It is hard not to contrast this cloying tribute with the persecution of the leading
members of the community—and indeed of Jews all over Eastern Europe—that had just
occurred at the behest of the anti-Semitic Russian dictator. Even given the spontaneous
outbursts of mourning that occurred elsewhere on the death of Stalin, it is difficult to
imagine that this was one of them. Placing it in its context—at a time when being a Jew
was reason for suspicion, and leadership in a Jewish organization was tantamount to an
indictment for treason—it is quite clear that this was an attempt to convey to the state and
party (“forward this letter”) the reliability of the Gemeinde and its leadership.
Despite the unanimity of this action it quickly became clear—and was clear for
some time—that the departures of Looser and Grunsfeld had left real divisions in the
Gemeinde. These divisions would lead to the reconstitution of the Vorstand several
times, to accusations of corruption and dictatorship, and ultimately to a requested
Ibid, 10 March, 1953.
intervention by the state. That the leadership of the state and party would be asked by the
Gemeinde to intervene in its internal politics makes clear just how divided the community
was after the events of early 1953.
The internal purge
A few days before the end of the year, the Gemeinde abolished its Vorstand and
replaced it with a “Gemeindeleiter” [community leader], Ernst Goldfreund, who had been
the Chair of the Gemeinde to that point. He in turn appointed Moritz Engelberg and
Martin Hahn as his deputies. The Gemeinde made explicit in its letter to the Rat des
Bezirkes that this had come after a direct order to do so from the Deputy Minister
President, Nuschke.471 It quickly became clear that there was more to the changes than
an order from the state. The religious officials in the Rat des Bezirkes immediately wrote
to their counterparts in office of the State Secretary for Internal Affairs in Berlin,
describing a bad situation in the Gemeinde. Apparently, the Gemeinde was seriously
divided into two camps, around the persons of Heinrich Rosenthal and Ernst Goldfreund.
An anti-Rosenthal campaign had sprung up in opposition to his religious ideas, though it
is unclear what those ideas were. And Rosenthal himself—clearly the loser in the
reorganization that had left him out of the new leadership—complained bitterly of
Goldfreund’s leadership.
This was in itself nothing new—the two had been divided for some time—but
Rosenthal was now accusing Goldfreund of borrowing 60,000 Marks for his business,
“Tuchhandlung Gebr. Heine” [Heine Brothers’ Cloth Shop], from the Gemeinde without
telling the membership, at a time when the Gemeinde was trying to borrow 130,000
StAL BT-RdB Leipzig 20664, 28 December, 1953.
Marks from the government to build a new hall at the cemetery. Rosenthal had himself
been confronted with an old tax debt, and the state had frozen his accounts and obliged
him to go into bankruptcy. One can imagine his indignation at his rival using Gemeinde
funds for his personal benefit.472 The situation was grim in the Gemeinde. According to
the government’s report, Goldfreund’s leadership was “diktatorisch” [dictatorial] and the
leadership of the Gemeinde was avoiding elections in order to hang onto power. It was
with this in mind that the local officials asked their national counterparts whether they
had in fact given the order to dissolve the Vorstand and replace it with a single leader. It
seemed to the local leaders that such an order would be a violation of the constitutional
separation of church and state. The letter concluded that an investigation was needed to
determine whether an order had been sent, and whether Goldfreund had taken the money,
and that new elections and bylaws were needed.473
The State Ministry then asked for a copy of the Gemeinde’s statues by way of
beginning such an investigation474, but more important action was taking place within the
Gemeinde. On the third of March, the Gemeinde sent the RdB [Rat des Bezirkes] their
statutes, along with this note: “The Vorstand members Frank, Muscatblatt, Teichtner,
Looser, Goldfreund, Dr. Grunsfeld, and Rosenthal are expelled. The Vorstand is now
composed of Herren Moritz Engelberg and Martin Hahn.”475 This extraordinary action
meant that not only Ernst Goldfreund, but also the fled leaders of the Gemeinde and the
honorary chair, Richard Frank, had been expelled, along with the late Alfred
Held, Tradition, 42.
StAL BT-RdB Leipzig 20664., 5 January, 1954.
Ibid., 25 February, 1954.
Ibid., 3 March, 1954.
Eight days later, the two remaining members of the Gemeinde met with
representatives of the Gemeinde membership, including Eugen Gollomb, a Polish
immigrant who had founded a personnel agency and quickly risen to a prominent position
as the leading payer of Gemeinde taxes.476 The whole group formed a provisional
Vorstand, agreeing to form an election committee and hold elections no later than the end
of April, to rewrite the statutes, and to investigate the Gemeinde’s finances and call a
general assembly of theGemeinde . They also notified Goldfreund that he was relieved
of all duties.477
On the face of it, all of this might seem a straightforward process of the Gemeinde
ridding itself of an authoritarian and possibly corrupt leadership. In the context of the
purge against the Jews of late 1953, and the flight of the leaders of the Gemeinde, though,
this probably was not the case. And in fact there is ample evidence of a “hangover” from
that purge in the words and actions of the Gemeinde and the state.
To begin with, Goldfreund had been dealt with by the state in ways that recalled
that purge. In October of 1953, the local Party Control Commission—the body that
handled purges—reported to the local government’s office for state-owned businesses
that Goldfreund was a capitalist, and that his ties to the west and to capitalist society had
left him rich and clearly on the side of capital and not of the working class.478 On the
same day that he was relieved of his duties in the Gemeinde, he was also relieved of his
status as a victim of the regime—and the benefits and pension that went with that
“Biogramme: Eugen Gollomb” in Judaica Lipsiensia, 310.
LGA 586, 11 March, 1954.
StAL Bezirkstag und Rat des Bezirkes Leipzig 17801—VdN file on Ernst Goldfreund, 14 October,
status—because of his mishandling of the people’s property.479 The rhetoric employed
against him could have left no doubt in the minds of the Gemeinde about the wishes of
the state and party, and the simultaneous actions of Gemeinde and state in March are
certainly suggestive of such a link.
The 1954 Assembly
The announcement of the decision to relieve Goldfreund came in the same
sentence as the expulsion of the fled leaders of the Gemeinde. This is also suggestive of a
need to make things good with the state and party by cleaning house, and this connection
was made clearer at the general assembly of the Gemeinde. In early May of 1954 an
outside chairman brought in to act as a disinterested party opened a general meeting of
the Gemeinde at the Keilstraße synagogue, with 74 of the 145 voting members of the
Gemeinde in place. Absent were the very old, the sick and invalids. The meeting was
described by the representative from the state office for church affairs as “undisciplined”,
largely due, he thought, to the presence of an outsider in the chair.
Moritz Engelberg spoke first, and set the tone. First, he pointed out that this was
the first general meeting since 1945, and had been called to deal with a serious situation.
“In the past, through the actions of Herr Lohser [sic] a dictatorial regime developed. Herr
Goldfreund too has done nothing different, so that in no way has he been able to exercise
a meaningful authority.”480 The linkage between Goldfreund and the departed leadership
of the Gemeinde—so thoroughly discredited in the eyes of state and party—was made
Ibid., 11 March, 1954.
StAL BT/RdB Leipzig 20664 [Bezirkstag und Rat des Bezirkes Leipzig files on the Israelitische
Gemeinde], 3 May, 1954.
But, Engelberg said, they were there to deal with the future and not the past, and
after savaging Goldfreund, he encouraged his listeners to remember that they were in a
house of God and act accordingly. Twelve nominees for a new Vorstand were put
forward, including a woman, Frau Spielberg. The observer noted some consternation
over this, since a woman had never been in the Vorstand, but also noted that the majority
concluded that women were equal now, and that the “new principles” should also be
applied within the Gemeinde. Maybe, but Frau Spielberg was not elected.481
Another (unnamed) candidate was objected to on the grounds that he had been
expelled from the SED, and was a sexual violator besides. The candidate withdrew, but
maintained his option to sue Emmanuel Henik and Eugen Gollomb, who had made the
accusation. Manfred Rosenthal was nominated, and was attacked, as Goldfreund had
been, for “having worked under the Lohser [sic] era”. Half of the nominees were
members of the SED.482 When the elections were done a non-SED member, a furrier
named Heinrich Ardel, was elected Vorsitz. Both of his deputies, Albert Goldschmidt
and Aron Adlerstein, were SED members, along with both of the members assigned to
responsibilities for social affairs.
So, it would seem that a purge was carried out, and those members of the
Gemeinde who were either members of the SED or acceptable to the party were put in
power, at the expense of the holdovers from the Grunsfeld/Looser regime. Except that
Heinrich Rosenthal survived. He was left on the Vorstand in charge of religious affairs,
Ibid., 9 June, 1954.
Ibid., 3 May, 1954.
along with the cantor Werner Sander. In fact, 10 of the nominees were elected, with only
the conspicuous absence of the alleged sexual offender and Frau Spielberg.483
The situation was much more fluid and complex than a simple purge at the behest
of the state and party, although both were involved. Clearly, the Gemeinde was anxious
to illustrate its reliability to the party, and much of the rhetoric within the meeting
reflected the language of the SED, and SED members were more prominent after this
election than before. But the Gemeinde had more autonomy—and the issues around the
election had more to do with internal concerns—than it seemed on the surface.
Eugen Gollomb and the Return to Normalcy
The limits and complexities of this semi-purge can be seen in the wildly
vacillating position of Eugen Gollomb. Gollomb had been one of the leaders of the
movement to call the general assembly and oust Goldfreund, and he had a very
interesting biography. He had been born in Breslau in Poland to a commercial family,
and had studied in Jewish schools and, for two years, in a rabbinical seminary. After
military service, he had married and started a bicycle shop. He was arrested after the
German invasion, and eventually made his way through a series of labor camps, and in
August of 1943 found himself in Auschwitz-Birkenau.
He survived a year in Auschwitz, before escaping successfully because the troops
looking for him had no spotlight. He linked up with the resistance, and by the end of the
war was a lieutenant in the Polish army. Despite having lost 70 members of his family in
the holocaust—including his wife and son—he made himself very unpopular with his
Ibid., 9 June, 1954. Steffen Held’s tables of the membership of the Vorstand actually include 11
members, but the archives that I have seen only indicate ten.
men by forbidding them to loot German property or violate German citizens. This, and
the anti-Semitism around him, led him to leave the Polish army in May of 1946. In the
meantime, he had met an 18-year-old (non-Jewish) German woman named Ingeborg
Stahr, and in 1947 they were married. In the meantime, they had moved together to
Germany in 1946. In 1949 they had a daughter, and by 1950, Gollomb had emerged as
one of the most prominent Jewish businessmen in town.484
Gollomb called the responsible official for religious affairs in the local
government just five months after the decisive general assembly, to tell him that he had
been expelled from the Gemeinde in the name of “social and cultural necessity”. This
was quite serious, because leaving the Gemeinde was the equivalent of leaving Judaism,
being excommunicated, at least according to the Gemeinde itself.485 He said that he had
been run off from the Gemeinde for allegedly trying to foment unrest and introduce
undemocratic practices. The official took up the issue both with the local leadership, and
with the leader of the Verband des Jüdischen Gemeinden in der DDR, Hermann Baden in
Baden felt sufficiently well-positioned to remind the state official of his authority
over Jewish communities in the DDR, and then reaffirmed Gollomb’s expulsion. The
government official accepted this, and observed that Gollomb had been expelled from the
Gemeinde because he would not let go of recriminations from the Looser affair, at a time
when the Gemeinde made it clear that they wanted the past to remain in the past.
He went on to note that he thought the Gemeinde would do what it had to do to
maintain order. They had also expelled another man “because he continued to make
“Biogramme: Eugen Gollomb”, 309-310.
LGA 307, letter to Mendel Löwenhof, 24 March 1954.
accusations against [leaders of the Gemeinde] within the community and encouraged
unrest among its members.” The bureaucrat closed by noting—with apparent
satisfaction—that he believed the leadership of the Gemeinde would not tolerate any
more economic irregularities and that Goldschmidt had told him “as a member of the
SED that he would pursue a clean and correct path for the Gemeinde and all of its
What had Gollomb done to deserve expulsion? A month after the General
Assembly, he had begun demanding that Rosenthal be thrown off the Vorstand, claiming
that his election was tainted because he had withheld information that he, Gollomb, knew
of from his possession of the economic records of the Gemeinde. If he were not expelled
from the Vorstand, Gollomb would go to the state authorities.487 The Gemeinde replied
less than a week later with a lawsuit, demanding that Gollomb turn over those financial
records that had been given to him in preparation for the General Assembly, but which he
had never returned.488 Gollomb made it clear that as long as Rosenthal was still on the
Vorstand, the matter was not closed as far as he was concerned, and he would keep the
documents.489 The court refused to rule for the time being, but Gollomb was ordered to
pay the costs of the suit.490
Gollomb was then called before a special internal court convened by the Verband to
address the charges of trouble-making. He refused to go, maintaining that he accepted
the authority of the court, but because the leadership of the Leipzig Gemeinde had so
“disgraced” [verunwürdigt] the Jewish tradition, he would have nothing to do with
StAL BT/RdB Leipzig 20664 [Bezirkstag und Rat des Bezirkes Leipzig files on the Israelitische
Gemeinde]., 3 December, 1954.
LGA 634—Eugen Gollomb, Korrespondenz, 5 July, 1954.
Ibid., 14 July, 1954.
Ibid., 25 June, 1954.
Ibid., 28 August, 1954.
them.491 He followed up two months later by demanding a whole new election for the
Vorstand, laying out a damning indictment of the Gemeinde.
He said that the current Vorstand—Rosenthal, especially—had engaged in a
systematic forgery of documents in league with Goldfreund, that it had not fulfilled its
responsibility in preparing a budget, that it had not been as transparent in its financial
dealings as it expected members of the community to be, that it had ignored the direction
coming from the chief rabbi in Berlin and “allowed itself to be led by the nose” by the
local cantor, Werner Sander. Their worst sin had been “to disgrace the Jewish tradition”
by calling him, Gollomb, into court. This was not like the old days, he warned, when
people like Looser and Goldfreund could get away with whatever they wanted, and if the
Vorstand was interested in having any semblance of community life at all, they must
convene a general meeting of the membership.492
This was clearly the last straw for the Vorstand, which moved to expel Gollomb from
the Gemeinde within the week.493 He was sent a letter, explaining that the Vorstand had
“expelled him unanimously, and expelled thereby his continuing damaging and
provoking speech, as well as the continuing disruption to the membership of the
Gemeinde.”494 This would be the end of the story—maybe Gollomb would come around
periodically, but he would be reduced to the margins—had this been a simple matter. It
was not. Gollomb was not the creature of the Vorstand, nor was he the creature of the
party. If his expulsion were as simple a thing as cleaning up the last of the 1952-53
purges, he would have just drifted off into obscurity.
Ibid., 30 August, 1954.
Ibid., 26 October, 1954.
Ibid., 31 October, 1954.
Ibid., 1 November, 1954.
But he did not. In a sign that the Gemeinde was redeveloping a life of its own, even
in the face of an emerging dictatorship, Gollomb’s case seemed increasingly to be about
the internal politics of the Gemeinde. This man, who had been expelled from the
Gemeinde—and whose expulsion had been approved by the state and party—came back,
and in a surprising way. The fact that he did, and the roles he played over the rest of life,
indicate that there was a surprising degree of autonomy available to Jews in the German
Democratic Republic, and that their relationship to the state was much more an ongoing
set of negotiations and compromises than a simple matter of the state and party’s wishes
being carried out by a compliant Jewish population.495
It is worth noting here—by way of explanation of the relative autonomy of the
Gemeinde and its members—that at least some of the debate between Gollomb and the
Vorstand was religious in nature, and that this was one important angle for pressuring the
state. In January of 1955, the regional government received a letter from Martin
Riesenburger, the head rabbi for East Berlin and the DDR, and cosigned by the secretary
of the Berlin Gemeinde. He said that the Cantor in Leipzig, Werner Sander, had tried to
name the municipal baths there as a ritual bath, a mikwoh. There had been a meeting of
the religious authorities in Berlin, and Riesenburger asked the state to intervene against
this attempt, and that they do so through the person who had notified him of the breach,
Eugen Gollomb!496
This is a continuation of the theme of Jewish agency developed in the previous chapter. Not least, this is
in the context of re-imagining the nature of so-called totalitarian societies. This ranges from the work of
Nathan Stoltzfus and Robert Gellately on Nazi Germany to that of Abbott Gleason on the Soviet Union to
the wealth of scholars dealing with the place of Jews in the GDR. In all of these cases, there are indications
of greater freedom of movement and agency than had been previously understood.
StAL BT/RdB Leipzig 20664 [Bezirkstag und Rat des Bezirkes Leipzig files on the Israelitische
Gemeinde], 28 January, 1955.
So, maybe what we see here is the return to something more like the experience of
Jewish Leipzig had been during the Weimar Republic. The unity of the Gemeinde
immediately after the war was in some ways a reflection of the unity forced on it during
the Nazi period. Differences between Jews melted away in the face of the assertion by
their enemy that they were all the same, and for Jews to survive at all, they were required
to forget their differences and act together.
This had been true during the immediate postwar period, too, as men like Alfred
Muscatblatt and Ernst Grunsfeld had led a community that was unified by the necessities
of the moment. Certainly, they were all still under siege at important moments, as in the
purge of the leaders of the community in late 1952 and early 1953. But that purge, and
especially the reactions to it that came to a head in the general meeting in late 1953, seem
almost to have awakened the Jews of Leipzig from a spell. All of the old antagonisms—
differences between reformist, native-born elites (like Ernst Goldfreund and Werner
Sander), and more orthodox and often foreign-born Jews (like Eugen Gollomb)—
reemerged. Certainly, much was different. There were many fewer people than there
had been, many of the most important players in the old debates were gone, and the allimportant position of the government had changed drastically.
But there were continuities, too. And, as we emerge from the era of the purge into the
mid- and late-1950’s, we can see some of those continuities pushing to the surface. So,
far from interpreting the community that emerges after 1953 as one of subservience, or
even one whose most important fact of life was its relationship with the authorities, we
see a group of people reclaiming their old arguments, reclaiming the right to fight with
one another, to define themselves and their community, and not just to deal with a
repressive and monolithic government.
And the surest sign of this is that Eugen Gollomb did not go away. He kept coming
to services, accosting one of the members of the Vorstand after the Thora reading one
Sabbath, making disparaging references to his eyesight and hearing, demanding to know
whether he had participated in his expulsion, and concluding with “you are all fascists,
but this isn’t over; I’m still fighting.” The recipient of these remarks, Theodor Moses,
remarked—understandably—that “as a victim of racial oppressio n, I took this as a
particularly offensive affront.”497
But then, some mixed signals began to emanate from the Gemeinde. The very next
week, the Vorstand sent Gollomb a voucher for 25 DM to buy his six-year-old daughter a
gift at one of a number of Jewish-owned shops.498 He was almost certainly one of many
to receive such a voucher, but the fact that he did—despite his lack of status within the
Gemeinde—is interesting. The war between Gollomb and the Gemeinde went on for
several more months, however. In February, D. Mendlewitsch, a Gemeinde member,
testified that he and others had heard Gollomb “say the most slanderous things against the
Vorstand”. “Utterances such as ‘chiseler’, ‘criminal’ and ‘fascist’ are specifically in my
The relationship remained bitter for some time. Gollomb told some members of the
Gemeinde that the head of the Verband of Jews in the DDR, Hermann Baden, was an
LGA 634, 24 January, 1955.
Ibid., 30 January, 1955.
Ibid., 21 February, 1955.
“arch-reactionary”.500 The Gemeinde told Baden of this, and he responded to Gollomb,
telling him that the days of people being able to slander Jews with impunity were ten
years past, and if he did not cease and desist [“this is our last warning”] he would be
reported to the state authorities.501 This is a fascinating attempt by both parties to
appropriate for themselves the language of victimhood and the memory of fascism, and a
sign of the seeming surety of the Verband that the state would be on their side.
The irony in all of this—and the fact that makes it clear how high a degree of relative
freedom of movement existed in the Jewish community so soon after the purges of
1953—is that Eugen Gollomb was destined to be the long-standing leader of the Jews of
Leipzig, the man about whom the West German “Allgemeine jüdische Wochenzeitung”
[General Jewish Weekly Newspaper] said “he was not only the center of his community,
he was the community.”502 The state was not going to take sides, at least not in any
predictable way. In August of 1955, the court oversaw a mediation, in which Gollomb
withdrew his accusations, the parties split the costs of the suit, and theGemeinde
withdrew his expulsion.503
Early the following January, the Gemeinde sent out this fascinating announcement:
“the expulsion of theGemeinde member Eugen Gollomb declared by the Vorstand was a
mistake, and after extensive mutual pronouncements has been revoked.”504 The
declaration also noted that the costs of the suit had been split. It is not all clear what
happened here, what the dealings behind the scenes were. But it is clear that there were
dealings behind the scenes, that politics were at work. It was not a matter of a
CJA 5B1, #37, 3 May, 1955.
Ibid., 4 June, 1955.
“Biogramme: Eugen Gollomb”, 309.
LGA 634, 2 August, 1955.
Ibid., 21 January, 1956.
pronouncement of the state of party in favor of the SED leadership of the Gemeinde
against the capitalist Gollomb.
This is something much more like life in the community before 1933. Even this soon
after the purges of 1952-53, life for the Jews of Leipzig was getting back to something
like “normal”. Gemeinde members attacked each other; there was tension between
foreign-born members like Eugen Gollomb and native-born Leipzigers, religious
disagreements resurfaced. Though surely this was a very different time than before
1933—there were many fewer Jews in Leipzig, and there was a memory of genocide in
clear view, and there was a frequently-hostile dictatorship to deal with—this is much
more like the time before 1933 than we might expect.
And so, Jewish life in Leipzig settled into a new kind of normalcy. A new generation
of leaders emerged in regular, even frequent, elections after a 1956 regulation was
passed, which banned employees of the Gemeinde (most immediately, Vorstand members
Theodor Moses and the Cantor Werner Sander, who had served since the troubles in
1954) from serving and allowed for elections every two years505. Aron Adlerstein, the
Polish-born mason, businessman and SED member who had joined the Vorstand in May
of 1954 (after having been given a loan for 3,000 Marks in 1953, which was paid off in
1956506), served for two years and, after a long interim period, rejoined the leadership in
1975 and until recently served as the chair of the community. Albert Goldschmidt, a
Hanover-born engineer who had served with Adlerstein as one of Heinrich Ardel’s SEDmember deputies in 1954, returned to the Vorstand as its chair in 1956, and served until
1957. He was elected for two terms as a member of the Vorstand in 1960 and 1961.
LGA 355/1, 13 June, 1956.
Ibid., 17 August, 1956.
Again, the makeup of the Vorstand implies something more like the give-and-take of
foreign- and German born Jewish Leipzigers from before the war than the emergency
situation of 1945. Compare the Vorstand of 1945 and what was to come: in 1945, every
one of the members of the Vorstand was born in Germany and most of them in the
region—Leipzig, Berlin, Jena, and Halle. As time went on, it was much more of a mix.
Adlerstein from Poland, Goldschmidt from Hanover, Samuel Merkel, a businessman born
in Leipzig and appointed in 1956 and who would serve as Chair from 1958 to 1960, and
Samuel Stammer, a bandmaster from Odessa who served on the Vorstand at the same
time.507 This mix of personalities and backgrounds is much more like the Weimar
period—albeit with fewer signs of rancor—than the forced unanimity of the immediate
post-45 era, much less the period of the Nazi dictatorship.
The Duties of the Gemeinde
The Gemeinde in Leipzig was not only a political body, of course. It was also the
administrative arm of the Jewish community. Over the whole of the postwar period, as
one neighboring community after declined in population and was unable to perform the
basic tasks of communal Jewish life—especially the maintenance of cemeteries and the
care of the old and sick—for itself, the Leipzig Gemeinde found itself obliged to pick up
those responsibilities. As early as 1953, the Leipzig Gemeinde was in charge of Jewish
life in the neighboring towns of Zwickau and Plauen.508
Held, Tradition, 68-72.
In response to a questionnaire from the Encyclopedia Hebraica in Jerusalem, putting together a World
Register of Jewish Communities and Organizations, in LGA 307, 8 October, 1953.
Much of the work of the Gemeinde was distinctly prosaic, like getting Jewish children
out of school for vacation or asking the schools to excuse them from Saturday classes for
the Sabbath.509 When a Jew who had lived in Leipzig and had gone to the west needed
proof of their residency or ownership of a business to move through the Federal
Republic’s restitution program, the Gemeinde provided it.510 There are hundreds of these
in the files, and one thinks of the reactions of the employees of the Gemeinde, helping
their former neighbors take part in a program of restitution that their own government
would not institute.
Sometimes, the Gemeinde made it its business to run interference for a Jew in their
relations with the state, and one is struck by the skill employed. In 1960, the Gemeinde
wrote to the religious office of the regional council, asking for permission for Herr
Theodor Klotzer and his family to move to town for religious purposes. The town where
they lived, Roßwein, was too small to have a functioning religious life, and this large
family wished to move to Leipzig and take part in the life of the Gemeinde. The interests
of the Gemeinde in boosting its numbers by the arrival of a family with young children
were not mentioned in the request. Nor were Klotzer’s interests in moving to a town with
more opportunities for a livelihood. Attention was carefully drawn, however, to the fact
that Klotzer had immigrated to the GDR from the Federal Republic, “because of the
smearings of swastikas in the Federal Republic, which he knows are unthinkable here.”511
The Gemeinde knew how to further their own and their members’ interests in language
that was likely to be effective in the world of the GDR.
LGA 318, 25 May, 1950. The schools refused, saying Saturday instruction was a matter of unity within
the German Democratic Republic, although an exception might be considered for major holidays.
In LGA 387.
LGA 387, 25 November, 1960.
Of course, the work of the Gemeinde was in religious life, too. There was no resident
rabbi. Like other Jewish communities, Leipzig was dependent on the leadership of the
Landesrabbiner [State Rabbi] of the DDR, Martin Riesenburger, on matters ranging from
conversion classes512 to circumcisions513 to the dedication of the renovated synagogue514.
In 1953, Werner Sander was hired as cantor of the Gemeinde, and became the most
important local religious authority, the Seelesorger [literally “soul custodian”], and later
served for a time on theGemeinde ’s Vorstand.515 His leadership was hardly
uncontroversial, and decisions he made on issues like holiday celebrations were
sometimes appealed to Riesenburger by angry members of the Gemeinde, with Eugen
Gollomb among them.516
One of the things the Gemeinde did not do, and might have been expected to—given
the legacy of Fritz Grunsfeld—was to fight for the rights of its members in regaining its
lost property. The GDR never did pass a restitution law, after putting off people like
Grunsfeld in the late 1940s with promises of one. And as Leipzigers asked their religious
community for help, they were disappointed. This was even true before the purge of
early 1953. Max Silbermann asked in 1952 for help in securing a piece of the settlement
the Federal Republic had made with refugees to Shanghai. He received a rather
condescending letter from the Gemeinde, explaining that his wishes were a reflection of a
misunderstanding on his part. Citizens of the GDR could not apply for a share of such
settlements, but, he was reminded, he was eligible to receive a pension of up to 400
Marks monthly. There was no such pension available in the west, and this was the big
CJA 5B1, #59, 31 May, 1949.
LGA 307, 27 October, 1953.
LGA 582, 18 August, 1962.
CJA 5B1, #36, 15 August, 1953.
LGA 634, 25 June, 1954.
difference.517 The Gemeinde was justifying a policy of the state that stood in stark
opposition to the interests of its members.
Rhetorical Support for the Regime
The Gemeinde had a responsibility to present the best possible face of Jewish life in
the country, whether to its own members or to foreign visitors. In efforts reminiscent of
the Nazis’ discussions of whether to mitigate some visible abuses of Jews during the
Messe, or trade fairs [see above, chapter on early Nazi period, page 4], the state asked the
Gemeinde to take part in a demonstration in honor of Georgi Dmitroff in the Jewish
cemetery.518 This was in the late Stalinist period, and it might be imagined that the state
and party became less manipulative in the use of the Jews of Leipzig as propaganda tools
as time went on. There was no such luck. Over the years, the Gemeinde hosted and held
special religious services for Jewish and other visitors from Sweden, Turkey, Poland,
Czechoslovakia, the Federal Republic, the USA, England, Holland and France. On these
occasions, the state sent flowers for services, and officials from the religious affairs
ministry came, too.519 Jewish guests were received on other occasions, too, like Rabbi
Yompol from Chicago, chair of the American anti-fascist committee. The rabbi was
especially taken by the condition of the Jewish cemetery during his 1969 visit, and the
chair of the Gemeinde, Eugen Gollomb, pointed out that it was all possible due to the
support of the government of the GDR.520
CJA 5B1, #61, 24 June, 1952.
LGA 301, 9 September, 1952.
LGA 503, 18 April, 1969; 16 October, 1975.
LGA 503, 22 October, 1969.
Not only Jewish guests but foreign journalists were received by the Gemeinde as part
of the government’s efforts to convince the world of the laudable condition of their
society, as in the 1971 tour of the synagogue for journalists from the USA, Britain and
other western countries, ending with a press conference with the Vorstand of the
Gemeinde, Cantor Werner Sander, and the leaders of the Verband der Jüdischen
Gemeinde in der DDR, along with representatives from the state’s office for religious
affairs and the foreign ministry.521
The use of Jewish citizens of the GDR as tools to show the toleration of the state was
perhaps unseemly, but did not compare with the negative use of the Jews of Leipzig as
denouncers of the western part of the country, the USA, and Israel. Such use dated back
at least to the 1950s and the denunciations of the west by Jewish Leipzigers as the last
remnants of Nazism, to be placed in stark contrast with the progressive forces of the
GDR. [See 1952-1953 chapter]. This use of Jews as rhetorical props continued into the
1960’s. In 1962, the German National Congress of the National Front [an umbrella group
of regime-supporting organizations] received a note from the Leipzig Gemeinde. The
note made clear that the Gemeinde appreciated the work of the Front in light of “the life
experiences of the community”. The Gemeinde equated the Nazism of the past with the
West German government of the present, and made that linkage very clear.522
In 1963, when Hans Globke, a commentator on the Nuremberg laws who went on to
serve in the government of Konrad Adenauer as secretary of the Chancellery, was tried in
absentia in an East German court and sentenced to life imprisonment, the Gemeinde
commented. Emanuel Henik, then the chair of the Leipzig Gemeinde, called an assembly
LGA 503, 19 July, 1971.
LGA 582, 15 June, 1962.
to discuss the Globke case, and concluded by writing a letter, to be sent both to the court
in Berlin that had tried him, and to the Leipziger Rundschau newspaper. Henik called for
the implementation of the sentence as soon as possible. He blamed Globke personally for
the crimes of the Nazi regime [“there are 120 Jews in Leipzig today—that is Globke”],
and warned that his accomplices were in power still. He closed by urging that “every
person—of whatever race of skin color—be treated with respect.”523
Criticism of the West German regime under cover of Jewish history was part and
parcel of political life in the GDR. In 1967, this use was taken to another level, as Jewish
East Germans were paraded in front of foreign reporters to criticize the west, and to
include Israel in their criticisms. A press conference was held in February of 1967, with
reporters from West Germany and other countries in western Europe, as well as from
India and Canada and even a couple from Israel. The participants in the news
conference—including Emanuel Henik, who was introduced as someone who had
emigrated to Palestine during the war—were given notes beforehand on how to respond
to questions.
If participants were asked about German restitution to Israel, especially the fact that
the West was sending such funds and the East was not, “the question should be answered
very emotionally”, by pointing out that the only real restitution to the Jews who had
suffered was certainly not in crass cash payments. “In the GDR the victims of the fascist
barbarity, regardless of religion or worldview, were granted a true restitution. The state
of Israel in no way has the right to make demands of other states in the name of the
Jewish people or to speak in the name of all Jewish people. In Germany, only the GDR
Ibid., 9 August, 1963.
had truly solved the issue of restitution for the crimes of German imperialism:
imperialism and Nazism were torn up by the roots, and with the creation of a stabile
socialist state a bulwark against imperialism and militarism, for peace and friendship
among nations, was erected.”
Handwritten notes were also given in case anyone asked about the GDR’s lack of
diplomatic relations with Israel: “-we as Jewish communities are not the government of
the GDR.” “-so far as we know, there was no attempt on the part of the Israelis to have
state relations with the GDR.” And then typewritten: “The antifascist forces of the GDR
maintain friendly contact with the progressive people of Israel, who work for the
maintenance of peace and fight against the re-emergence of militarism and Nazism in
West Germany.” “These contacts between parties and mass organizations of the GDR
and democratic, anti-fascist parties and organizations in Israel correspond with the
humanitarian goals of the policy of the GDR.”
At the press conference itself, the Vice President of the Verband—Fritz Grunsfeld’s
old position—denounced the Federal Republic as anti- Semitic, called Federal Chancellor
Kurt-Georg Kiesinger the “Ribbentrop-Goebbels specialist for foreign radio
propaganda”, and the Federal President Heinrich Lübke a “concentration camp builder”.
The Archbishop of Cologne, Joseph Frings, was accused of holocaust denial, and this
“blasphemy” was compared to the support of Cardinal Spellmann [sic] for the American
effort in Vietnam. The conference, by the way, was held on a Friday afternoon, despite
the requests of the Jewish participants that it be held another day.524 The press
CJA 5B1, #211, 4 and 10 February, 1967.
conference did not attack Israel directly, and this may have been an important line of
demarcation for the participants.
That same year, Eugen Gollomb, who had been serving as a deputy for Emanuel
Henik at the head of the Gemeinde, completed his improbable comeback with election as
the new Chair of the community following Henik’s death.525 He would serve in this
position for the next twenty-one years, until 1988, the eve of the collapse of the East
German regime. The fact that Gollomb could rise to this position, and the at times
remarkably independent tack he took while in office, are indicators of the relative
autonomy available to the Jews of Leipzig under the same government that had begun a
purge against them in 1952-53, and which tried to use them as propaganda tools for years
after that
Much had indeed changed since the early 1950s. In 1963, the same year that
Gollomb was elected to the Vorstand, he and Henik were joined by Ella Wittmann, just 9
years after the rejection of a woman candidate for the Vorstand by the community.526
This was far enough for men like Gollomb, though. In 1968, both the Leipzig Gemeinde
and the largest community, in East Berlin, threatened to leave the Verband in protest of
the election of Karin Mylius as Chair of the Gemeinde in Halle.527 The threat was
apparently never carried out, though, and by 1975 the Leipzig Gemeinde had recovered
from its indignation sufficiently to send Frau Mylius official greetings on her birthday.528
LGA 503, 28 July, 1967, 2 February, 1968.
LGA 634, 2, 4 December, 1968.
LGA 503, 15 January, 1975. Though the hesitancy to see women take an equal place was not gone. In
November of 1973, a majority of participants in a discussion sponsored by the Verband der Juden in der
DDR spoke out against allowing women to take part in the constitution of a Minyan, despite the
conclusions of an international conference on the subject, and despite the growing number of cases in
Change and Autonomy
Not everything changed in the 1960’s and 70s. The government continued to invite
foreign visitors to Leipzig to meet with the Jewish leaders there529 and clearly hoped to
use these visits to influence some section of foreign opinion. But the more blatant use of
Jews in Leipzig to convince the world of the rightness of DDR foreign policy—and
especially to question Israeli policy—ceased, and a large reason seems to be the
resistance of people like Eugen Gollomb. In 1974, Gollomb broke publicly with the
Verband der Juden in der DDR by refusing to send the Leipzig Gemeinde’s report of
activities. The protest arose because the Verband had stricken a reference to Israeli
victims of terrorism from its Passover report shortly before, and Gollomb found this
“undemocratic and unjust”.530
To be sure, the use of Israel as a rhetorical device against the west and to build the
anti-colonial bona fides of the GDR continued. In 1982, the German-American Jewish
newspaper Aufbau ran a story comparing DDR philosemitism and anti-Israeli rhetoric.
The article pointed out the flourishing religious life of the Jews of Leipzig, but also
discussed a speech by DDR Prime Minister Willi Stoph given at the side of Nicolae
Ceausescu. In the speech, Stoph argued that the “criminal murder expedition of the
Israelis against Lebanon and the Palestinians, directly supported and approved of by the
Americans, shows, imperialism is heating up tensions all over the world.” The article
also discussed a characterization of Israelis as “not people, but animals” in a Czech
which a Minyan could not be found in Leipzig, much less the smaller communities in the DDR. Held,
Tradition, 63.
E.g.: 22 October, 1969; 20 October, 1971; 4 July, 1974; 16 October, 1975 all in LGA 503.
LGA 503, 15 July, 1974.
newspaper, Prace, or Labor, and described the whole thing as being of a piece with the
efforts of Josef Goebbels.
The article also mentioned growing cooperation between Lutheran churches and
Jewish communities in the GDR, and mentioned especially the work in Leipzig of Pastor
Theodor Arndt and Eugen Gollomb.531 The article made clear that, while the state was
continuing to use Jews and Israel and the Nazi past to justify their current policies, actual
East German Jews—at least in Leipzig—were opting out of such action. There are
several possible conclusions to be drawn from this shift. One is that in communities as
small as the Jews of East Germany, individual personalities are important, and Eugen
Gollomb was an outstanding and independent leader. This was undoubtedly the case,
from the testimony of virtually every source.532
But the article also raises questions about what had changed in East Germany from
the time of 1952-53 purges, to allow for such independence of political activity. We
should take into account that Stalin was long-gone, that Khrushchev had made his secret
speech at the 20th party congress, and that although the Eastern Bloc was not an open
society, it was far less repressive than it had been at the height of the Stalinist terror. This
was true in East Germany as well as in other countries. And, to be sure, it was at least
partially the result of changes in government policy. Even the post-1961 consolidation of
power by the SED after the completion of the Berlin wall had passed.533
From Aufbau, 26 November, 1982. In LGA 634.
This includes non-Jews in Leipzig such as my wife Nancy’s physician, who while setting a break in her
hand became quite excited on hearing my dissertation topic. He was very keen to discuss Gollomb, whom
he had known well as a neighbor, and whom he admired immensely. Nancy showed admirable restraint
during the discussion.
Henry Ashby Turner, Germany from Partition to Reunification, New Haven: 1992, 95.
But it was also the result of events and factors outside of the party and state’s control.
The same international contacts that both Nazi and SED officials assumed existed for
Jewish citizens—and sought to use for their own purposes—also played a role in
encouraging Jewish Leipzigers to assert their autonomy. Eugen Gollomb had a sister in
Omaha—who was able to visit Leipzig in 1971—and a brother in Israel.534 It is not too
much to assume that they conveyed information to him from the wide world, information
which frequently did not match the assertions of his government. In fact, we know
Gollomb received such information, because the Aufbau article mentioned above was in
his own files in the Gemeinde archives!
And what was true for the Chair of the Gemeinde was no doubt true of other
members. Brothers, cousins, aunts, flung all over the world: this was hardly unusual for
survivors of the Holocaust like those who made up the vast majority of the Gemeinde in
Leipzig. And if we look particularly at the case of Israel, we see not only personal
connections but the institutional ones formed by the Association of Former Leipzigers in
Israel. The Association, founded in 1953, sent a report of over 100 former Leipzigers
from all over Israel laying a cornerstone for a new old-age home in the city of
Rechowoth. The celebrants included the former Gemeinderabbiner, David Ochs, and
were led by the president of the Association, Dr. E. Mezshav, the new identity of the
extraordinary former leader of the State Zionists in Leipzig, Ludwig Goldwasser.535
There were other Israeli contacts, too, like a 1964 visit from the distinguished Leipzigborn Israeli conductor Sabtai Petrushka.536
LGA 503, 16 July, 1971.
LGA 503, undated but probably February, 1965.
LGA 503, 9 October, 1964.
None of these developments by themselves—changes in the political tone of the
Eastern Bloc, the emergence of new and more forceful leaders, the persisting
international contacts of Jewish Leipzigers, especially with Israelis, can explain the
growing rhetorical distance of the state and its Jewish citizens, especially on the subject
of Israel. But taken together, they illustrate the broad set of causes that made Jewish
Leipzigers increasingly unlikely to submit to calls for cooperation in anti-western
The Gemeinde and state did cooperate over symbolic functions over the years to
come, but they seemed relatively divested of politics and increasingly focused on
religious and communal life. On November 10, 1966, a memorial was laid at the sight of
the main Gottschedstraße synagogue, and Steffen Held believes that “with this activity
the public officials believed their responsibility to be fulfilled”, though it is hard to see
from his account or anywhere else how the state officials had ever considered themselves
responsible for the fate of Jewish Leipzigers. Held also dates an important change from
the 1960s, saying that from the 1968 commemoration of Kristallnacht, the Jewish history
of Leipzig was “being returned to public view”.537
There is something to this: from the early 1970s there are many more examples of
Jewish life being lived outside the walls of the Gemeinde, the end of what Held calls the
“sequestering” of Jewish life. It should be kept in mind that Jews had been visible when
the state authorities needed them for political purposes—a practice that certainly survived
into the 1960s. But Held is right in pointing to the increasing role in public life that
Jewish Leipzigers took. Under the leadership of Cantor Werner Sander (who had been
Held, Tradition, 43.
named Oberkantor for the whole DDR in 1962538) performances of Jewish music were
given by the Synagogue Choir in the most prestigious hall in the city, theAlten
Handelbörse. An institution of major importance in the reemergence of Jewish life and
history was the Arbeitsgemeinschaft Kirche und Judentum [Working Group of the
Churches and Jewry], led by Pastor Siegfried Theodor Arndt. Arndt, along with Eugen
Gollomb, took leading roles in this ecumenical organization, with Gollomb giving the
major speech at its semiannual meeting in 1977.539
After the Fall
1989-90 saw a wave of political change that also revolutionized Jewish life in
Leipzig. In some ways, little had changed: the state and party had relieved the Gemeinde
of direct political pressure some time earlier, official anti- Semitism was in the past, and
the emergence of Jews into public life in Leipzig had been going on for some time,
thanks not least to the action of Jews acting in concert with Christians of faith and
goodwill like Pastor Arndt. In others ways, though, the Wende [literally, “the Turn”, the
term used by Germans to refer to the end of the SED regime] , brought on at least in part
to similar dynamics of church activism that had shaped the Arbeitsgemeinschaft Kirche
und Judentum, changed Jewish life in Leipzig more than any other segment of that city’s
population. We now know that Jewish Leipzigers were, for instance, the object of special
StAL Bezirkstag und Rat des Bezirkes Leipzig 14836—VdN File on Werner and Ida Sander, Report
from 10 January, 1965.
Held, Tradition, 45.
Stasi [the East German secret police] observation. As late as 1988, a nation-wide
inventory of “special Jewish objects”, was ordered by the Ministry for State Security540
But the major change in Jewish Leipzig came after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
In May of 1991, the Jews of Leipzig had survived the DDR, but there were only thirtyfive of them. At the end of July of that year, the first Jewish émigrés were welcomed into
the Leipzig Gemeinde from Kiev, Odessa and St. Petersburg. The Gemeinde devoted
itself to finding homes for them and, with some more difficulty, jobs. By October of
1994, 60 members of the Gemeinde were foreign-born.541 By June of 1999, at the
semiannual “Jewish Week” sponsored by the city and the Ephraim
- Carlebach-Institut,
there were 191 members of the Gemeinde, and 170 of those were foreign-born, from the
former Soviet Union.542. Today, there are 1,043 members of the community, much its
highest number since the genocide. Of these around 30 were born in Germany, and they
are between the ages of 50 and 80. There is one Gemeinde member from Argentina, one
from Poland, 10 from Lithuania, and the rest from the republics of the former Soviet
And so now history has come full circle for the Jews of Leipzig in some ways. A
community founded in conflict between German and foreign-born Jews, a community
that had its glory days on the back of a huge influx of Ostjuden in the early part of the
20th century, a community devastated by genocide and degraded by Stalinism, now
grows again, and again it is thanks to the wave of Jews from the east, seeing Germany,
Held, “Schalom”, 35.
Held, Tradition, 45.
Held, “Schalom”, 35.
Correspondence with Israelitische ReligionsGemeinde zu Leipzig, 25 May, 2004. The correspondent,
Klaudia Krenn, points out that the Lithuanians will soon be reclassified as Germans, though no explanation
was given.
not for the first time, as a haven. When one goes to services in the old Kielstraße
synagogue, one is handed a prayer book in Hebrew, German and Russian.
The old issues are raised again. Who will run the new Gemeinde? Will it be the last
remnants of the old Leipzigers, or the majority, the new members? It is too early to
declare that the present has learned from the past, but the Vorstand elected in January of
2001 was led by Rolf Isaacsohn, who was born in 1933 in Leipzig, and who had served
on the board since 1993. He was joined in that election by two other native-born
Germans, a man and a woman, Gabriele Jonas, and by one man and one woman from the
Ukraine. When Frau Jonas died in 2003, she was replaced by Galina Chandalova, from
The latest news out of Leipzig is the current debate over the construction of a new
community center in the Waldstraßen quarter, in the site of the former Ariowitsch old age
home. Rolf Isaacson of the Vorstand told reporters that the current space in the
synagogue building on Keilstraße can only seat 60 people and has become inadequate for
community celebrations, music, and educational undertakings, especially those for
newcomers needing language instruction. Objections have been raised by neighbors over
construction details, and also over security concerns, but a petition drive led by other
neighbors in the quarter and joined by the pastor of the Thomaskirche [a prominent
downtown Protestant church, where J. S. Bach had served as choral director and organist]
netted 1,071 signatures which were ceremoniously delivered to the Gemeinde. The
organizer of the petition drive, Suzanne Michaelis said “I would like for my children to
Correspondence with Israelitische ReligionsGemeinde zu Leipzig, 17 March, 2004.
get to know the Jewish culture. 545 The administrative court ruled on behalf of the
Gemeinde on the 12th of March, 2004, that the concerns of the neighbors over
constructions issues were unfounded, and that the questions of security were beyond its
purview. Construction will commence.546
Leipziger Volkszeitung, 6 March, 2004. The author can attest to the inadequacy of the current space in
the Keilstraße, having spent many hours in the hall of the Gemeinde’s administrative offices examining
archives, and being passed by many people, mostly Russian-speakers on their way to language classes or
meetings with the Gemeinde’s social worker.
LVZ, 13 March, 2004.
This dissertation has tried to show that in every example in the twentieth century
since 1914, the German state saw its Jewish citizens as an important symbol. In the case
of the Weimar Republic, religious and personal freedoms were central to the state’s
concept of itself. This resulted in a meaningful degree of freedom of self-definition for
Jews in Leipzig, who were free to contest among themselves what it meant to be Jewish,
and they did so. More importantly, legal equality meant physical safety and freedom.
This was a high point for the Jews of Leipzig after centuries of, at best, second-class
When 1933 came, this equality, freedom and safety ended. The new state saw
Jews as important—indeed, they were much more a part of how the Nazi state saw itself
than was the case with Weimar. But this was only in a negative sense. Jewish Germans
were something against which the new Germany defined itself. This meant, in turn, that
Jews had little—and then no—freedom to define themselves. At first, this meant a
gradual exclusion of Jewish Leipzigers from the mainstream and the artificial ascendance
of the Zionist vision of Jewishness. Soon enough, the rhetorical restrictions were
matched by physical ones. Finally, the Nazi vision of Germany was fulfilled—Germany
was defined by the absence of Jews. The symbolic politics surrounding the place of
Jewish Germans in the larger community had real and murderous implications. The
Jewish community of Leipzig was all but destroyed.
After the collapse of the Nazi dictatorship, a new German state evolved in the
eastern part of the now-divided country. First under the direction of Soviet authorities,
and then under the less direct influence of Moscow, a socialist Germany was established.
This German state saw Jews as important symbols, too, but their significance changed
over time. From the beginning of the GDR, Jewish citizens were rhetorical weapons in
the race with the Federal Republic to lay stake to the position as the opposite of the
Nazis. This position was at the center of the SED’s claim to legitimacy, and Jews were
an important part of that claim. Jews were asked to participate in the rituals of the East
German state, to make clear how different the new state was from the old one, for the
world to see. At times, this was used in direct contradistinction to the Federal Republic
to the west, painted as the successor to the Nazis.
The fact, however, was that the West German state offered far more freedom to its
Jewish citizens than did the Eastern one. Part of this was a generally less free atmosphere
in the East, but part of it was specific. Jews were not just a positive symbol, but in the
purge years of 1952 and 1953, a negative one. At that point, in response to a wave of
anti-Semitism, the SED cracked down on Jews in Leipzig and all over the country,
accusing Jewish leaders of espionage in the cause of Zionism and imperialism. After the
purges ended, Jews were expected to assume their old symbolic roles again, denouncing
the west. Before, during, and after the purges, the Jewish community was used as a
symbolic tool for the state to make its case for legitimacy, and to define itself. At all
times, the ability of Jews to define themselves was limited as a result. At the worst times,
their lives and liberty were in peril as a result. These matters were not just confined to
rhetoric. Jewish Leipzigers lived with very real—and usually quite negative—
consequences because of this discourse.
It matters immensely that the Berlin Republic is devoted to the equality of all of
its citizens. As we have seen, it is the form and the intent of the state that determines
above all how Jewish lives will be lived in Germany. The current state is one founded on
ideals of equality and sees itself quite clearly as the successor to the Weimar Republic.547
The new united Republic is a state that takes seriously the right of all of its citizens to
find their own place in society. This applies to Jews, to be certain.
One of the major questions facing any historian of Germany is that of
continuity—was the Nazi state of a piece with German history, or an anomaly? How
similar were the National Socialist and SED dictatorships? Were periods of liberal
democracy “normal”, or “aberrant”? The long view taken by this dissertation allows
some preliminary responses to those questions. From this perspective, there is a great
deal of continuity—in all cases, Jewish Germans were important to the regime. But there
is greater discontinuity, and the defining factor in German persecution of Jews is not
some ingrained anti-Semitism, pace Goldhagen, but the form of the state. During the
Weimar period, to be sure, Jews in Leipzig were exposed to anti-Semitism, but they were
freer, dramatically freer, than they had been, or than they were to be. In stark contrast,
the Nazi state pursued discrimination and then mass murder.
By the same token, we can see breaks even between German dictatorships. The
SED was a dictatorial party, and the freedom of Jews to live their lives and find their
place among their neighbors was restricted. But the comparison with the Nazi period
makes clear that the SED regime was not one that defined itself in opposition to Jews, at
most times. That government was devoted to the construction of a socialist state, not a
racial one. As a result, Jews in Leipzig were—for most of the life of the GDR—left to a
The Basic Law of 1949 makes clear in its First through Fourth articles that the liberty of individuals and
groups is its first priority. This is especially significant to Jews in clause three of Article Three, which
forbids discrimination based on race. Its attitude toward its heritage from the Weimar Republic is explicit
in its adoption of Articles 136-141 of the Weimar Constitution, dealing with religious practice and liberty.
surprising degree to their own devices. Jewish citizens were important to both of the
German dictatorships, but in very different ways. Links between “authoritarian” regimes
need to be rethought. From this perspective, the GDR seems more in line than the Third
Reich does with German tradition, as a state where Jewish Leipzigers had some
opportunities to define who they were and to live in peace. The crucial difference,
impossible to overstate, is that the Nazi state was a racial one in which the elimination
and eventual murder of Jewish people was a defining task. The GDR’s attitudes toward
its Jewish citizens shifted over time, in concordance with the consistent goal of the
construction of a socialist society.
All of this indicates a need for a more developed historical approach to the GDR.
The Cold War construct of totalitarianism had the virtue of focusing attention on the very
real limits on personal freedom within the Soviet Bloc. But it did as much to distort the
distinctive character of those regimes.548 The People’s Democracies were states that did
not define themselves racially, and that made an enormous amount of difference. In the
specific case of East Germany, the vocabulary of totalitarianism had the effect of blurring
the differences between the German dictatorships of Nazism and Communism and
making easier the simple assertion of a German tendency toward illiberal politics. By
making clearer the differences, we allow a more nuanced vision of the German political
tradition, one that makes the sudden and surprising conversion of the West Germans to
democrats after 1945 rather less sudden and surprising.
Indeed, I believe that this study, following the example of work by other historians of the Nazi period,
calls for a more complicated view of totalitarianism even from 1933-45. More and more evidence points to
the importance of popular opinion even in the Nazi regime, and the significance of popular anti-Semitism is
clear in the case of Leipzig. The state determines to a large degree what can be said, but not totally. The
salient difference here is that, though German anti-Semites had some important freedom to speak and
engage in a kind of political activity, Jews did not. In the final analysis, of course, it is the state that
decides who will live and who will die.
This is made somewhat easier to see in the pursuit of a local history spanning
different political eras. Examining a whole nation under one form of government can be
too broad, in that it takes us away from the lives of individuals whose lives are important
in themselves and which can tell us about the crucial questions of the effect of the state’s
intentions on real personal experience. At the same time, it can be too narrow in its
focus; such a study can lack the perspective to place that political culture in its proper
context, and to answer the critical questions of continuity. Taking the long view allows
studies like this one to make clearer arguments about the relationship between Jews and
Germans. Taking the local view allows scholarship to paint a more realistic picture, free
of some of the need to fit a whole nation of experiences into a single explanatory model.
So, this dissertation is at some a level an argument for more local history being
done. How does the case of Leipzig compare with that of Hamburg? Of Dresden? Each
city is different, with a different history and different neighborhoods. Only by taking
each case on its own merits can we begin to put a larger picture together. This is
especially true in the case of Germany, a nation made up of many distinct regions.
Looking at the smaller picture allows us to look at the bigger picture, and to make a more
accurate assessment of the crucial issues around German Jews and German gentiles. This
work is a gesture in that direction; a contribution to what can only be the work of many
But the most important reason to study Leipzig at the local level is the same
reason I began studying the Holocaust. We owe the victims of these persecutions
something. We cannot give it to them without paying close attention. This is a work of
memorialization as much as analysis. When we look closer, we can see the lives of
people like Richard Frank and Fritz Grunsfeld and Eugen Gollomb and Samuel Hodes
and Tanja Ury as something besides mere examples, types to be examined in brief by
way of explicating a larger point. These were whole lives touched and often ended by
tragedy and wickedness. This realization and the kind of work that it drives are little
enough to do in their memory.
BA-SAPMO—Bundesarchiv Stiftung Archiv der Parteien und Massenorganizationen der
DDR ( Foundation Archive for Parties and Mass Organizations in the GDR, Federal
Archive, Berlin)
SED ZPKK (Socialist Unity Party Central Control Commission)
SED ZK Kirchenfrage (Socialist Unity Party Central Commission for Religious
CJA—Stiftung “Neue Synagoge Berlin—Centrum Judaica” Archiv (Foundation “New
Synagogue Berlin—Centrum Judaica”)
Files on Verband der Jüdischen Gemeinden in der DDR (Union of Jewish
Communities in the GDR) and its relations with member communities
LGA—Leipzig Gemeindearchiv (Archives of the Leipzig Israelitische
Eugen Gollomb, Correspondence
Meetings of Directors of Gemeinde
Business of Gemeinde
Correspondence of Gemeinde to members, state, party, Landesverband
SAL—Stadtarchiv Leipzig (Leipzig Municipal Archive)
OBM (Mayor’s Office)
Schulamt (School Office)
Files on Measures against Jewish Citizens
Stadtbezirksversammlung und Rat der Stadt Leipzig (City/Regional Assembly
and City Council)
StAL—Staatsarchiv Leipzig (Saxon state Archive in Leipzig)
PP-P Presseabteilung (collections of local periodicals)
PP-V Vereinsregister (police and court records of registered organizations)
Zionistische Vereinigung Leipzig
Israelitische Religionsgemeinde zu Leipzig
Verein Ahavas-Thora (Talmud Thora)
Hilfsverein Israelitischer Gewerbetreibender Leipzig
Jüdisches Lehrhaus
Centralverein deutscher Staatsbürger jüdischen Glaubens Ortsgruppe
Verband der Staatzionisten
Jüdisch-Nationaler Jugendbund “Herzlia” Ortsgruppe Leipzig
Leipzig Kulturbund Deutscher Juden
Reichsbund jüdischer Frontsoldaten, Ortsverband Leipzig
Jüdische sozialdemokratische Arbeiterorganisation ‘Poale Zion’
Bezirkstag und Rat des Bezirkes Leipzig
Israelitische Gemeinde
Verfolgter der Naziregimes
Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschland Bezirksleitung Leipzig
Party Leadership files
VVN (Organization for Victims of the Nazi Regime)
VEB Edition Leipzig
Musikverlag C.F. Peters
Börsenverein der Deutschenbuchhändler zu Leipzig
Landgericht Leipzig
Bezirksschulrat Leipzig
Secondary literature
William Sheridan Allen, Nazi Seizure of Power: The Experience of a Single
German Town 1922-1945 (New York: 1984).
Frank Bajohr: "Aryanisation" in Hamburg ; the economic exclusion of Jews and
the confiscation of their property in Nazi Germany (New York: 2002).
Omer Bartov, Mirrors of Destruction: War, Genocide, and Modern Identity ( New
York and Oxford: 2000).
Yehuda Bauer, History of the Holocaust (NewYork: 1982).
Ellen Bertram, Menschen ohne Grabstein: die aus Leipzig deportierten und
ermordeten Juden (Leipzig: 2001).
“Biogramme: Eugen Gollomb” in Siegfried Hollitzer, “Die Juden in der SBZ und
ihr Verhältnis zu Staat wie Kirche” in Manfred Unger, ed., Judaica
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Newspapers and Journals
Allgemeines Jüdisches Familienblatt
Gemeindeblatt der israelitischen Religionsgemeinde zu Leipzig
Das Jüdische Volksblatt
Jüdische Kinder-Zeitung
Leipziger Neueste Nachrichten
Leipziger Tageszeitung
Leipziger Volkszeitung
Mitteilungen des Hilfsvereins russischer Juden
Theaterdienst: Informationsblätter für Bühne, Film und Musik
Die Weltbühne
Der Weg
Zeitschrift des Hilfsvereins israelitischer Gewerbetreibender und für die
Interessen des Judentums
With Israelitische Religionsgemeinde zu Leipzig employee Claudia Krenn, May,
With Leo Baeck Institute Archivist Viola Voss, April, 2005.
Robert Allen Willingham II was born in Waco, Texas on December 20, 1968. After
graduating from La Junta High School in 1986, he attended Fort Lewis College,
graduating in 1992. He studied at Purdue University, receiving a Masters of Arts degree
in 1994. He entered the doctoral program in history at the University of Texas in 1995.
He has taught at Southwestern University and at Roanoke College, where he currently a
member of the history faculty.
Permanent Address:
1111 Wasena Avenue SW
Roanoke, VA 24015
The thesis was typed by the author.